Tag Archives: Evangelicals

3 Reasons Evangelicals Don’t Do Interfaith Dialogue & 3 Ways Forward

FLP is excited to feature a guest blog by Josh Daneshforooz. Josh is an author and international speaker on leadership, peacemaking and personal development. Author of the Loving Our Religious Neighbors curriculum, he spearheads social change campaigns between disparate religious communities. Josh is also founding partner at East Africa Property Partners and founder of All Nations Education, an organization that empowers young adults through mentorship and higher education in developing countries.

“Evangelicals are consistently the most difficult community with whom we attempt to collaborate,” an executive of a well-respected interfaith organization recently told me on a phone call.

As I’ve become increasingly engaged in the movement for peace among different faith communities, I’ve noticed there’s one regularly absent Christian community: evangelicals.

Most people who attend the big interfaith conferences such as the Parliament of the World’s Religions, who co-organize local community service projects and who participate in dialogue sessions are of a liberal persuasion—both Christian and non-Christian alike.

But what about the more conservative types, like me? More specifically, and more relevant for this post, what about the 100 million evangelicals in the US and the other 400 million around the world? Why has our seat at the table remained empty for so long?

With an American evangelical mother and an Iranian Muslim father, I grew up straddling two worlds. Though I was shaped in certain ways by both sides, the main spiritual community that shaped my values and beliefs was a large evangelical church in Las Vegas.

As a child I developed a subconscious fear that intentionally building relationships of mutual respect and learning across religious boundaries was somehow not consistent with the teachings of Jesus. Throughout the past ten years, I’ve attempted to understand this fear. Along the way, I’ve met many other evangelicals who share my concerns.

After learning to overcome my own fears, I created the Loving Our Religious Neighbors (LORN) curriculum as a resource to enable others to overcome theirs too. Today LORN empowers evangelical communities to build lasting relationships of conviction and respect with non-Christian religious communities as they work together to serve the poor and tackle social problems.

Leading LORN campaigns throughout the United States has taught me that evangelicals typically don’t do interfaith work for three reasons. In response to these three concerns, I’ve developed approaches in LORN for equipping evangelicals to take their place at the table of peace.

1. Don’t Want to Compromise the Teachings of Jesus

“When you hear the phrase ‘interfaith’ or ‘interreligious dialogue’, what usually comes to mind?” This is the question I ask at the beginning of every LORN campaign.

Krista, a member at a church in Boston, responded, “The first thing that comes to mind when I hear those phrases is that all religions lead to the same mountaintop. All religions are the same. Mixing theologies. But I just don’t believe that. So I don’t usually get involved in interfaith initiatives. I don’t want to compromise my faith.”

Evangelicals often equate interfaith work with theological relativism, and as a result, those who do participate are frequently faced with judgment from their own community.

The essence of evangelicalism teaches that faith is life and life is faith. Asking an evangelical to put her faith, her life, aside in the name of dialogue is like asking the body to remove the heart and continue to circulate blood.

How Do We Overcome This Concern? 

Establish a biblical foundation. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). In LORN campaigns, we are empowering evangelicals not to water down their faith but to put it into practice as peacemakers as we take ownership of our title as “children of God.” The LORN curriculum also lays a biblical foundation in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

2. Don’t Want To Abandon Sharing the Good News

Evangelism, or sharing the Good News of the Gospel, is a pillar of the message of Jesus: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Pastors and leaders are constantly strategizing new ways of inviting people into authentic community, growing the Church and ultimately spreading the news that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Matthew 10:7).

This message is the foundation of the evangelical growth paradigm and, I hope and pray, the major motivation for expansion. Today many megachurches have multiple campuses. Central Christian Church where I grew up, for example, has grown from one thousand members and one campus when I was 10 years old to 15 thousand weekly attendees and 10 campuses not only in the Las Vegas valley but also across the U.S. and around the world.

The word “evangelical” comes from the Greek word meaning “good news.” Asking an evangelical to put aside sharing the Gospel in the name of dialogue is like asking an Olympian to stop competing in the middle of the Olympics. Sharing the good news is just what we do—because Jesus teaches us to.

How Do We Overcome This Concern? 

Imagine new ways of sharing the Gospel. Instead of using older forms of evangelism, LORN, among other things, equips Christians to share their “Public Testimonies.” I define public testimony in LORN as the “skill of communicating your faith with conviction and respect (1 Pet. 3:15) in a multi-religious society.”

3. Fear of Violence 

Sam is an active member at an evangelical church in Texas. After hearing his senior pastor talk about the importance of building respectful relationships with local Muslims, Sam became fearful and asked, “Why would I become friends with them? They blew us up. I’m not going to let them anywhere near my family.”

Many evangelicals like Sam have never met a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Sikh or even a Catholic or liberal Protestant. The only Muslims they know are the suicide bombers whom they see in the media daily. So they make generalizations such as, “They blew us up.”

Our ignorance often breeds fear, and our fear can cause us to express violent attitudes and use violent speech. This is often true of human beings in general, conservative Christians not being an exception. Some evangelicals fear violent and forceful Muslims, yet they project violent and forceful attitudes out of fear.

How Do We Overcome This Concern? 

Meet your religious neighbors. I’ve learned that the single most powerful way to overcome misunderstanding and prejudice is to develop lasting friendships.

After Sam met Muslim families in his suburb, he said, “I get it. These people are normal, just like my family. They’re not violent. Now I’m on board with what our pastor is teaching: We can remain committed Christians while being friends with our neighbors who come from all over the world.” This is precisely why LORN is not simply a book; it’s a curriculum that’s used in a 5-week campaign that culminates in a day of multi-faith community service and relationship building with our religious neighbors.

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” If we respond out of fear to our religious neighbors, we are not responding out of our faith. Instead we are reacting out of our fallen humanity because we have not been perfected in love. When the waves of fear come crashing down on the seashore of multi-faith engagement, let us stand on the rock of the One who casts out all fear.

Will You Join Us?
Start A Loving Our Religious Neighbors Campaign Today
 

LORN is now available! We are in the process of launching in evangelical churches and on college campuses across the United States. Go to the following link for the 3 Steps to Start a LORN Campaign.

Also, click here for a video on “How to Launch and Sustain a LORN College Campus Team.”

And click here for a video on “How to Launch LORN at a Church or in a Christian Organization.”

Or email me directly to get involved: josh@lorneighbors.com.

Visit www.LORNeighbors.com to get a copy of the curriculum.

Share Button

The Self Destructive Nature of Bearing False Witness

by Nicholas Price

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on my blog reflecting on a disturbing issue that has arisen since beginning my studies in seminary in July of 2013. It is a problem that has continued to bother me and it relates to how we, as seminarians and faculty, talk about those with whom we disagree.

Let me explain what I mean. At several points over the past two quarters I have heard professors and students set up straw men when trying to highlight what makes us, as Lutherans, theologically superior to other strains of Christianity. More often than not the straw man is the “Evangelical”. I’ve heard evangelicals called anti-intellectual, prone to emotionalism, shallow in their theology, self-centered in their worship practices, and overly focused on works righteousness.

Not only are these criticisms harsh, they are not true!!! And I say this as someone who worked for an evangelical para-church ministry for six years. I say this as someone who has attended evangelical churches, received training at evangelical conferences, and studied at an evangelical seminary. In fact, it was the evangelical commitments to discipleship of the mind, deep theological inquiry, Christ-centered worship, and the insistence on salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone that brought me to the Lutheran Church. I have a high regard for my evangelical brothers and sisters and, in many ways, still consider myself a part of that community. So you can understand my personal frustration and distress when I hear members of my own church community insulting and denigrating an entire community of Christians just to score a couple of theology points.

But beyond being unfair and ungenerous, this problem matters for one other reason: we are breaking the Eighth Commandment. This commandment states the following:

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).

When we set up straw men and use them to make a point, what we are really doing is judging and speaking against a community based on stereotypes. We are claiming that those who belong to this community say, act, and believe things that, in truth, they do not. In so doing, we are bearing false testimony against them. And we are doing this to fellow Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Not only does this damage the unity of the larger body of Christ, but it actually hinders our witness to the world. When I was studying Islam as an undergraduate student, one of the most frequent charges against Christians by my Muslim friends was that they fought all the time about doctrine and would regularly tear each other down over religious disputes. They said that they could not believe in a faith tradition that was marked by such division and infighting.

However, as I have reflected on this further, I’ve come to the realization that this kind of “straw man” approach not only damages those within the Church, but also to those outside of it. How many times have we, as Christians, heard our fellow brothers and sisters tear down Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, Atheists, and Agnostics based on stereotypes of these religious and philosophical communities? In our attempts to highlight the unique features of our own faith tradition, are we denigrating and painting a false portrait of those from other backgrounds? I would argue that this is no less a violation of the Eighth Ninth Commandment than when we fall prey to infighting, for when we do this we are tearing down our neighbors. Furthermore, it destroys bridges to cooperation.

But the damage doesn’t end there, for these kinds of stereotypes actually do harm to us as well. When we start seeing an entire community of people through the lens of a stereotype we hinder our own ability to build meaningful relationships with people who are different from us. The reason is because our perception becomes our reality.

For example, if we start from the premise that evangelical Christians have weak or inaccurate theology, then we build up the impression in our own minds that we have nothing to learn from them. If we start from the premise that Muslims are violent, then we will never learn of the rich history of social justice and peacemaking work that has been done by pioneers within the Islamic community.
In so doing, we cut ourselves off from the powerful theological insights and social contributions that entire faith communities, within and outside of the global Church, are making. The truth is that often my own faith is strengthened when I learn from the insights of my brothers and sisters from other branches of the Christian church. Likewise, my appreciation of the arts, sciences, social activism, and yes, even theology, have been broadened as I have learned from my non-Christian neighbors.

So, if we must argue against people who have differences in opinion let’s be specific. Rather than saying things like, “Evangelicals believe….” or “Hindus think…”, it would be more helpful to say, “When I was at a theology conference, I had a disagreement with a particular presenter on the following issue…” or “When I read (insert specific title or author) I disagreed with (him/her) on the following point….”. Get specific. Address real-life disagreements that happened between specific individuals. Don’t paint broad strokes and don’t label an entire community.

My hope is that we would learn to disagree honestly and with integrity while still leaving the doors open for fellowship and mutual instruction. The truth is that we, as Christians, have significant theological differences with those inside and outside of our community. However, there is a way to discuss these differences while still communicating respect to others. Generosity must trump polemics and addressing specific concerns goes much further than condemning entire communities. My prayer is that at the seminaries and in the churches around the country, we build academic environments and ecclesial cultures based on respect, honest inquiry, and humble conviction.

Nick is currently enrolled full-time at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis in the M.Div program. He is the proud father of two kids and happily married to his wife of five years, Jenny. He writes regularly on his blog, Prodigal Preacher.

Read another Faith Line Protestants reflection on Bearing False Witness here.

Share Button

Eats Well with Others

What does eating have to do with evangelism? If you grew up going to church, then you likely grew up attending church potlucks (or pitch-ins, or covered dishes—or, whatever they were called in your hometown).  Christian churches everywhere host meals on special occasions or following worship in the spirit of fellowship.  This practice is rooted in one of the basic tenets of our faith—that when we break bread together we are celebrating the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who offered us his flesh and blood (bread and cup) as a sign of his covenant with humanity. In order to follow Christ, we Christians eat together.

Long before Jell-O salad and deviled eggs, Christian communities came together to share the Lord’s Supper. But early Christians didn’t always break bread in the spirit Jesus showed.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul admonishes the followers of Christ in Corinth for eating in an unfaithful way: “When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. 21For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.”

In order to observe the Lord’s Supper, Paul points out that we cannot merely gather together; we have to gather in a spirit of hospitality and humility. No one can go hungry or thirsty at the Lord’s Supper. Paul goes on to say: “So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation.” My New Testament professor, Dr. Brigette Kahl, says that the very definition of what it means to be Christian is to be a “co-eater”. To be a Christian is to eat with others; to wait for others; to sacrifice our own comfort for the comfort of others; to be one who sets a wide table at which everyone is welcome.  For Paul, this is no small command. Those who eat in an “unworthy manner” will face judgment and risk condemnation.

In our religiously diverse world, Christians are called to eat and fellowship with those of all faith traditions and backgrounds. We are called to extend the Lord’s Table beyond the church walls in order to make the example and teachings of Jesus a reality in our world. Interfaith cooperation is about being with others; in Christian terms, it is about eating with others. Evangelicals and all Christians embody the life and sacrifice of Jesus when we seek communion with all of the “others” around us, despite our differences.

 

Share Button

Can Evangelicals be involved in interfaith work?

I’ve been working in the interfaith field for 6 years, and as someone who identifies as a born again Christian, here’s the question I get most often:  “But what about evangelicals and proselytizing? Can evangelicals be involved in interfaith work if their faith calls them to convert others?”

Here’s the short answer: Yes.

My long answer on the why and how:

Evangelicals must be involved in interfaith initiatives. Evangelicals can be a HUGE resource and value added to your interfaith work on campuses and in your community. At the Interfaith Youth Core, where I work, we have a pretty big audacious mission: to make interfaith cooperation a social norm within a generation. And if we want to achieve that mission, we have to have evangelicals on board. They make up a sizeable amount of the population in this country and have profound influence in our culture. In my experience many evangelical folks will want to be involved in interfaith work but don’t feel like they are welcome – so it’s important to make it clear that evangelicals are wanted and needed at the table of interfaith cooperation.

Define what interfaith work is – and what it isn’t. Frankly, “interfaith” can be a scary word to anyone concerned that they might have to compromise their faith. At IFYC, we define interfaith as respect for people’s diverse religious and nonreligious identities, mutually inspiring relationships between people of different backgrounds, and common action for the common good. That means that you don’t have to water down your identity to come to the table of interfaith cooperation – whether you’re an evangelical, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, or an atheist, you don’t have to compromise what you believe (or what you don’t believe) to engage in interfaith work. We may not agree about who gets into heaven, or if heaven exists at all. We may be divided across political lines. But we can all agree that homelessness is a problem in our community and we should tackle it together because when we start from a place of shared values and combine our social capital, we are better together. The service approach is what’s key here – many of my evangelical friends would be perfectly comfortable serving alongside folks of different religious and nonreligious traditions, but wouldn’t feel comfortable at an interfaith worship service where they felt like they couldn’t pray in the name of Jesus.

Affirm the importance of evangelizing. When talking with evangelical groups, affirm that evangelizing is a key component of their religious beliefs and practices (Mark 16:15). Evangelizing, however, is only one way that religious traditions teach their followers how to interact with others. When you engage in interfaith action and service, this is an opportunity to engage another part of your religious identity – like feeding the hungry – which I believe as Christians we have a very clear biblical mandate to do (Matthew 25: 35-40). Evangelical Christian religious practice is more dynamic than simply trying to convert others.

Make it clear that interfaith work isn’t the place for proselytizing. There are many places where proselytizing is appropriate, but interfaith work is not one of them. Being involved in interfaith service is bringing people of different religious and nonreligious backgrounds together to be partners in making the world a better place.  In this setting, proselytizing may get in the way of allowing cooperation to happen because people may feel as though their existing identity is not being respected or even heard.

Emphasize opportunities interfaith work gives to share your tradition. When I talk with my evangelical friends about getting involved in interfaith work, I emphasize that just because you aren’t proselytizing doesn’t mean that you aren’t sharing your faith. Interfaith work does provide the opportunity for people to live out the core tenants of their religious or nonreligious values and empowers them to speak openly about how their religious or philosophical convictions motivate their life. For some, this is also a form of bearing witness. For example, in doing interfaith work I’ve had the opportunity to talk about Jesus and how my faith inspires me to countless non-Christians on a daily basis.

To my evangelical friends – it can be challenging for to suspend evangelism when interacting with someone who is not Christian, I but assure you the payoff is worth it.  You are an important and needed voice at the table of interfaith cooperation.

To my non-evangelical friends and colleagues in the interfaith movement – I understand it can be hard sometimes to trust folks in the evangelical community, but I assure you the payoff is worth it.  I encourage you to reach out to evangelical communities and engage them in interfaith cooperation.

Share Button

Evangelical Credibility

John Morehead on Q Ideas:

A new movement has arisen among Evangelicals, involving organizations like the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy and others, a movement of people who believe that it is possible to engage those in other religions without compromise, and to do so in civility. At the core of this movement is a desire to follow the way of Jesus. At times Evangelicals have attempted to support such a model with reference to biblical passages where Jesus rebukes the scribes and Pharisees (Mat. 23:27). But a more careful reading reveals that this passage is not applicable to interreligious encounters. Here Jesus criticizes leaders in his own religious community. It is not a text that applies to consideration of how Jesus engaged those outside of his religious community.

Read the full article here: http://www.qideas.org/blog/evangelical-credibility-and-religious-pluralism.aspx

Share Button

Thinking Theologically About Interfaith Work (Part 1)

This blog is a re-post from ProdigalPreacher, a blog by Nicholas Price. Thanks to Nick for allowing us to re-post his piece. We’ll close comments for this piece on our site so you can join us in the discussion on the original post at http://prodigalpreacher.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/thinking-theologically-about-interfaith-work-part-1/

INTRODUCTION TO THE SERIES

Since college, my path has regularly crossed those of interfaith workers.  I’ve had a chance to work with leaders and pioneers like Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, as well as up-and-coming leaders like Gregory Damhorst, former president of Interfaith in Action and writer at “Faith Line Protestants”.  I’ve also written on the subject at a couple of points, primarily to talk about what interfaith work is and the role it can play in our increasingly inter-related world.

Over the past few years I’ve been immersed in working with InterVarsity, an evangelical Christian movement among college students, so my primary focus has been there.  However, in recent weeks the subject of interfaith work has come up again, specifically from evangelicals asking if they should be involved and, if so, at what level.  In the past I’ve written as an evangelical outsider looking into interfaith circles as well as addressed the practical reasons why evangelicals should be involved in interfaith work.  However, I’ve never really given interfaith work a theological treatment before.

What follows is a three-part series called, “Thinking Theologically About Interfaith Work”.  The first part will deal with some of the biblical passages that I believe provide a Christian framework for interfaith engagement.  The second part will address both the opportunities and the barriers to interfaith work from an evangelical perspective.  Finally, the third part will address my personal hopes for evangelical Christian involvement in interfaith work.

BASIC ASSUMPTIONS

But before I dive into the theological reasons for being involved in interfaith work, I want to briefly address some of my assumptions.  First, I am writing as an evangelical Christian.  That being said, I do not claim to speak for all evangelicals. Some of what I have to say will probably be uncomfortable for interfaith practitioners who are not evangelicals.  Likewise, other points will probably be challenging for my fellow evangelicals.  What I provide here are my own thoughts as a member of this faith tradition and my readers are free to disagree with me on these points.

Second, I am already assuming that evangelicals should be involved in interfaith work.  For my reasons for this, I would direct you to my CrossCurrents article from 2005 (republished on this blog).

Third, I draw my definition of interfaith work and practice from the definition and model articulated by the Interfaith Youth Core and it’s founder, Eboo Patel.  Along with Cassie Meyer, Dr. Patel says that interfaith work, “seeks to bring people of different faiths together in a way that respects different religious identities, builds mutually inspiring relationships, and engages in common action around issues of shared social concern” (Patel & Meyer, 2010).  At points I will both affirm and critique this definition, but it is one of the best that I have seen for positive inter-religious engagement.

My hope for this series is to contribute to the conversation about interfaith engagement.  It is not my desire to be the only word or the final word on the subject.  So, without further ado, let’s look at some of the biblical reasons for evangelicals to be involved in interfaith work.

BIBLICAL REASONS FOR INTERFAITH ENGAGEMENT

What follows is a brief survey of several biblical passages which I believe provide a helpful framework for evangelical engagement in interfaith work.  My reasons for doing this is because of the role the Bible plays in the life of the evangelical community.  We believe that it is God’s authoritative word and that it is trustworthy in its entirety.  As such, we look to it for guidance in every area of life and this includes how we relate to those of other faith traditions.  While there is no explicit passage that I believe encourages interfaith work in the way defined above, there are several passages which lay out principles which point to the need for positive engagement with other faith communities.  While this survey is not exhaustive, I hope it will be helpful for both my fellow evangelicals as well as for those from other faith communities who seek to understand the evangelical community.  For the sake of space, I will point out three texts which I think are instructive, though there are several others that I could cite.

Jeremiah 29:  Beyond Isolationism in Bablyon

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exiles, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7, see also vv.4-6).

This letter from the prophet Jeremiah was addressed to the nation of Israel during a time of great religious and cultural anxiety.  They have been exiled to the enemy nation of Babylon.     Surrounded by a foreign culture, facing incredible pressure to assimilate, and immersed in a religious environment that was very different from their own, the temptation for this community would have been to turn inward:  choosing isolationism as a way of protecting themselves as best they could.

Into these dark circumstances Jeremiah sends the exiles a powerful message:  engage.  God calls his people to engage the surrounding culture and to seek the good and the well-being of their new neighbors, with all of their cultural, political, and religious differences.

In this passage I find a word of encouragment for the evangelical community.  Historically the posture of the evangelical world has been to reject and retreat from the surrounding culture.  While this trend has been changing in the past 20 years, evangelicals have still been reluctant to engage in dialogue and positive social engagement with other faith communities.  However, what we see in Scripture is the call to be involved in the surrounding culture for its benefit, living with and among those we are called to serve.  In fact, the religiously plural environment of ancient Babylon, as well as that of the Roman Empire during the years of the early church, was just as religiously diverse as our present-day American society, if not more so.  And in both the Old and New Testaments, we find the people of God engaging and interacting with their surrounding culture.

During the Babylonian exile alone we encounter examples like that of the prophet Daniel, who actually worked for and served the dictatorship which carried his people off into captivity.  While it is obvious that Daniel did not support every policy, belief, or directive that he was given, he nonetheless worked alongside the Babylonian government, serving it where he felt he could, as a faithful believer in God (you can read his story in the book of Daniel).  His goal was to use his influence for the betterment of the society in which he lived.

We live in an increasingly diverse world and, more and more, our culture is defined by the interactions between various communities and subgroups, not least of which include those of faith.  While there is much difference between these communities, there is also much we hold in common, especially as regards our calling to share and care for the common spaces which we share (communities, schools, political systems, businesses, parks, etc).  Evangelicals should adopt an attitude of creative engagement with these spheres and learn ways to work with their neighbors of various backgrounds for the common good.  For example, if Muslims, Jews, Christians and Hindus all send their children to the same schools, it would be in their interest to work together for the improvement and betterment of that common space.  Creative engagement, not isolation, should characterize our approach when it comes to interacting with various religious communities and people groups.

Matthew 5:  Living as Peacemakers

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
(Matthew 5:9)

In a world that is characterized by the “clash of civilizations”, religious conflict seems to be a disturbingly common occurrence.  Too often religion has been used as a weapon against those who are different.

Interfaith work provides a corrective to this.  With its emphasis on growing in relationships with people of other faith traditions, sharing stories, and working together for the common good, interfaith work provides an alternative story to that put forth by religious extremists and builds relationships across faith lines that can serve as avenues of trust and dialogue when inter-religious conflict rears its head.

As people called to be peacemakers in a violent world, evangelical Christians should be on the front lines of this movement.  Building relationships and working together for peace does not mean we have to sacrifice our religious convictions.  As such, our posture in interfaith work should be one of building bridges and advocating for peace where there is religious conflict.  In doing so, we are able to stay true to our own religious beliefs while also living out this beatitude in regard to our neighbors of other faith backgrounds.

Acts 17:  Religious Literacy in Athens

“People of Athens!  I see that in every way you are very religious…”
(Acts 17:22, see vv.16-34)

Another instructive text for evangelical engagement in interfaith work is found in Acts 17.  In verses 16-34, the apostle Paul is spending time in the Greek city of Athens, a place with a wide variety of religious beliefs and worldviews present.  During his stay there he is invited to share about his own faith with one of the leading intellectual bodies of the city:  the Areopagus.  What follows is an incredible exchange in which Paul demonstrates his own literacy in the religious traditions of the Athenians while also remaining true to his convictions as a Christian evangelist.

While this encounter is a brillant example of humble apologetics and evangelism, it also teaches us something about how we are to approach other religious traditions.  During his defense of the Gospel, Paul quotes two Greek philosophers in his argument:  Epimenides and Aratus.  What is surprising is that he not only quotes them, but affirms the viewpoints that they espoused, using them as a way to build his own case for the Gospel.  While Paul did not agree wholesale with the worldviews of either of these philosophers, he acknowledged that there was some truth to what they taught and he wanted to affirm that.

In Paul, we see that it is possible for evangelicals to affirm some of the truth claims of other faith traditions where those claims align with our own.  This can be a building block toward mutual understanding and respect, as well as a platform from which to begin working together.  Again, it is important not to compromise the Gospel message, but it is also possible to affirm areas of commonality.

As such, evangelicals should have a curiosity about and a desire to grow in their understanding of other world religions.  Interfaith dialogue is a brillant place to start because it begins with a place of sharing and is born out of a desire to increase understanding across faith lines.  As such, evangelicals should not fear entering into such spaces, but can do so with a desire to learn.

CONCLUSION

Again, these were only a few passages among several that I believe can given evangelicals a basis for positive interfaith engagement.  What we see here is that it is possible to remain true to one’s religious convictions while also seeking understanding and building relationships with people from other faith backgrounds.  Furthermore, it is a part of our calling to work together for the betterment of society around us.  Again, doing so does not compromise our core obedience to the Gospel, but can actually serve as a springboard for living it out more faithfully (more on this in coming posts).

In my next entry, I will highlight some of the opportunities and barriers that I see, as an evangelical, to interfaith work.  So stay tuned.

Share Button

From Gordon College: Loving Our Religious Neighbors

Faith Line Protestants is excited to feature a new voice in our discussion on Christians in the interfaith movement. Kyleen Burke is a senior Political Science/Philosophy major at Gordon College in Massachusetts. She has been involved in the leadership of a new interfaith club at Gordon, which she hopes will become a permanent part of the college ethos.

Over the course of my four years at Gordon I have devised a simple and succinct way to describe my school: It’s a “small, Christian, liberal arts college just north of Boston”. This is enough to pacify most, and is apt outline of what makes my college unique. I decided to go to Gordon the night before the decision deadline, thinking “if I’m going to call myself a Christian for the rest of my life, I should probably learn about Christianity”. As it turned out, Gordon was an excellent place for this sort of mission. Educating well-versed Christians is the driving philosophy of Gordon, and faith is integrated into every aspect of our learning. However, the Christian environment does come with a trade-off. While it is conducive to good, deep conversations about big questions, it is hard to consider the perspective of other faiths. We do not have Muslim, Jewish, or Secular Humanist peers to discuss issues with. It is also hard to learn about other religions and philosophical traditions when they are not represented on campus. Thankfully, Gordon has recently confronted this issue with a concerted effort connect our campus to the rich diversity of religious groups in the Boston area. Our hope is to pioneer a new way for Christian colleges to retain their unique community, without being closed-off to relationships with our religious neighbors.

Our project at Gordon began with the prodding of Josh Daneshforooz, an Evangelical Christian who had recently graduated from Harvard Divinity School. Having been raised in a multi-faith household, Josh was particularly passionate about connecting Christian and Muslim communities. He wrote a book called “Loving Our Religious Neighbors”, as a manual for Churches that want to connect with the Muslims in their area. The book outlines a fourteen-week program, in which Christian groups reflect on the Biblical mandates to love our neighbor, before engaging with their Muslim partners in community service and dialogue. In the summer of 2010, before the book had been published, Josh asked us if we could pilot the program at Gordon.

The opportunity to start a Loving Our Religious Neighbors campaign seemed like the perfect way to introduce interfaith engagement to our Evangelical campus. Like many students at Gordon, I had always been interested in learning about other religions, but hadn’t found a method that fit clearly within the school’s paradigm. So, a small group of us started meeting weekly, reading chapters from Loving Our Religious Neighbors and talking about religion and belief in general. We partnered with the Muslim Students Association at MIT to host a joint service project at a local NGO, and a Church/Mosque visit. By the end of our first semester we had facilitated exciting conversations and formed new friendships with peers we would not have met otherwise.

This year, the Loving Our Religious Neighbors project at Gordon has grown in numbers and support. More students are interested in learning about other faiths and engaging in our area. Faculty and administration have also encouraged our project and endorsed the effort to find a way to join the interfaith movement as Evangelicals. We continue to meet weekly for discussions about religion and faith. We also host a lecture series of visiting scholars who present on their belief, including Nuri Friedlander from the Harvard Islamic Society and Chris Stedman from the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy. The most affecting aspect of our project, however, continues to be the partnership with our peers (which are the wonderful students at the Harvard Interfaith Council this year). By working with the HIC on service projects and special events, we are given opportunities that few Evangelical college students encounter. We are able to meet thoughtful and devout students our own age and develop relationships that broaden and challenge our comfortable lines of thinking. It is this type of growth that is necessary for the holistic education places like Gordon seek to provide. Without learning from, and engaging with, our religious neighbors, we neglect an important aspect how we might develop as students and as Evangelical Christians.

Share Button

What do we call ourselves?

I really enjoyed this from Skye Jethani: Why Are There No “Christians” on Twitter?

He notes that in his wanderings of Twitter profiles, “Very few used the word Christian, and no one used the word Evangelical” to describe themselves.

And then he brings up a great point, which is that “Evangelical is applied so broadly that few seem to believe it holds much meaning,” which presents an interesting issue to our discussion of evangelicals and the interfaith movement.

To add to Skye’s point, my Twitter profile identifies me by my activities and not explicitly by my faith:

MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois. Leading @globalhealthIL, co-founder of @flprotestants, long-time @uiucinterfaith enthusiast.

But I resonate with Skye’s point that the term evangelical is tricky – it seems to carry a lot of baggage in addition to holding a rather vague definition. What’s interesting to me is that I’m most comfortable calling myself an evangelical in the interfaith setting. Why?

Because I know that folks who do interfaith work aren’t going to immediately jump to conclusions based on how I describe my faith. Outside of an interfaith context, I don’t have that luxury: I fear that people will jump to conclusions and ascribe certain qualities based on some of the more prominent (and abrasive) so-called evangelicals. I’ve talked about this a little bit in the past.

At the end of the day, I’m interested in showing people the characteristics of the compassionate, loving example I follow in Jesus and to communicate the message of the gospel in the same manner. I hope that choosing to call myself an evangelical won’t lead people to jump to negative conclusions about my character before I have a chance to do that.

Perhaps this is just another reason why we need more evangelicals doing interfaith work. It’s also another example of why actions must speak louder than words.

In case you missed the link, Skye’s blog is here: http://www.skyejethani.com/why-are-there-no-%E2%80%9Cchristians%E2%80%9D-on-twitter/1204/

Share Button