I ended my previous post on this blog by suggesting that a second fear that some Christians have concerning interfaith dialogue is that such engagement results in compromising the faith, dodging the hard issues, or settling for a lowest common denominator between Christianity and other faiths.
No doubt there are times when this has been, or is, true. But the renewed emphasis on engaging with other faiths that is evident these days, especially from within the evangelical world, has brought with it a dynamic which may not have been so noticeable in past years.
The need of the hour is for a courageous engagement of people from different faiths. This does not mean combative, but it does mean frank and honest.
A good example of this was the publication recently of “A Common Word - Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbour.” For those unaware of the original document on which this book is based, you can read it here at the 'Common Word' website . And amongst the hundreds of responses received, that which came from the Baptist World Alliance which can be viewed here was exemplary in its courtesy, its appreciation and yet also its honesty concerning the many major differences between Christianity and Islam.
The book “A Common Word – Muslims and Christians on loving God and Neighbour” is edited by
The approach the book takes is in keeping with the robust nature of contemporary engagement. Take this extract from Prince Ghazi –
“A Common Word does not signal that Muslims are prepared to deviate from, or concede one iota of, any of their convictions in order to reach out to Christians – and we expect the reverse is also true… neither does (it) mean Muslims are going to facilitate foreign “evangelism opportunities” in the Islamic world in the name of “freedom of religion.” (p11)
No room for slushy sentiment there. Nor when Volf himself reflects on the dialogue that A Common Word has made possible, and especially doctrines such as the Trinity and Christ’s atoning death:
“Significant agreement on love of God and neighbour does not erase these undeniable, deep and consequential differences.” He goes on to mention ‘practical problems causing tensions’ between communities, and cites specifically “persecution and lack of full religious freedom, problems concerning evangelism… and many others”. (p21)
So this engagement is one which entertains few illusions. Mistakes may be made along the way, but the need of the hour is for God’s people to engage in brave theology.
A brave theology -
– will recognise in this moment in history the need for Christianity and Islam especially to find a way of co-existing peaceably (blessed are the peacemakers) while staying true to our religious convictions
– will look to build interfaith relationships because only in the context of relationships can hard things be said to those to whom you have been willing to listen deeply, and hard things be heard from those who likewise have listened deeply to you.
– will recognise that the biblical injunction to love our neighbour means, in this situation, the risk of sitting down and talking, not with people of no faith (which characterises most expressions of outreach), but with people of strong faith, a people for whom, if we are honest, we sometimes entertain both fear and suspicion in our hearts.
One of the most challenging chapters in the book is from Martin Accad, a good friend of
In exploring what Jesus meant by 'love your neighbour' Martin helpfully reminds us (pp157-160) that in the Old Testament this primarily meant “Love the strangers living among you” (Leviticus ) and the familiar command of course was “Love your neighbour as yourself”, in effect a call to be hospitable. (Lev 19:18)
When Jesus was asked “who is my neighbour” he radically extended the definition of neighbour to include those who were the archenemies of the Jews, namely the Samaritans (Luke 10:30ff) hence it was logical, but controversial, for Jesus also to add the injunction “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) Martin is not implying that Muslims are the enemy, but he is helping us to see how radical 'love your neighbour' must be.
None of this is easy. In most Muslim-majority countries there are far less freedoms than Muslims enjoy elsewhere in the world, not least in Judaeo-Christian cultures like the
That is not the road I wish to travel. There is an alternative.