A New Kind of Christianity
Second, although I respect Scot on so many counts, I wouldn't want to overlook the many ways in which my proposals differ from traditional liberal theology. My attitudes and commitments regarding Jesus, the Holy Spirit, scripture, spiritual experience, institutionalism, personal commitment and conversion, evangelism and discipleship, and many other subjects make many of my liberal friends think of me as conservative. Sometimes I wonder if evangelicals simply use the word "liberal" as a way to say, "Let's stop listening to this person. He's too different from us, and so is not worth our time and attention." I hope that's not the case, but sometimes, this is what I feel like when evangelicals use "the L word."
For me, liberal isn't automatically a bad word. If liberal means free from tyranny, I'm for it. If liberal means generous, I'm for it. If liberal means believing that our best days are ahead of us, I'm for it. If liberal means welcoming honest questions and giving honest scholarship a fair hearing, I'm for it. If, on the other hand, liberal means without restraint, or careless about tradition, or dismissive of scripture, or institutional and lukewarm regarding commitment to Christ, and so on, then I wouldn't want to be associated with that. And we could say parallel things about the word "conservative."
One of the most compelling qualities about you and your work is that you are in conversation with people from all religious streams and venturing out way beyond the walls of your church, or any one church. Why does this seem important to you? How does this fit into your vision of "a new kind of Christianity"?
Many of us grew up in religious settings where the unspoken rule was, "The only kind of relationship you can have with a non-Christian is a relationship that aims to convert him or her." So it was seen as somewhat unfaithful to simply befriend people of other religions -- to enjoy their company, to find common ground, to work with them for the common good, and so on. But that didn't make sense to me. And it was difficult practically because I've always had friends and neighbors who weren't Christian. What was I supposed to do? cut them off? Would that be Christ-like -- to have conditional and manipulative relationships that I walk away from if the person doesn't live up to my hopes and expectations? That doesn't sound like doing unto others as I would have them do unto me.
So, central to my vision of a new kind of Christianity is the realization that my primary call to my neighbor of another religion is to love him or her as myself. Not terribly radical, I know, but surprisingly rare! This is especially important at our moment in history, it seems to me, because Jesus called us to be peacemakers, and God knows we need more peacemakers across religious boundaries. Not only that, but Jesus called us to follow his example, and he was always "transgressing" religious boundaries by befriending and serving and breaking bread with people outside the circle of "us," whether it was a Syrophoenician woman or a Roman centurion. The apostles followed the same pattern, always breaking boundaries and connecting with people they formerly would have avoided. So one of my life mottoes is, "A follower of Jesus moves toward the other in love and compassion." Inter-religious friendship is not a compromise of my commitment to Jesus; it's an expression of it!
Deborah Arca joined the Patheos team after more than ten years managing programs for the Program in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of Christian Education and music/theatre programs for young people and has served as a music director for worship and special retreats.