Dialogue, what is it?

When it comes to our faith and non-Christian faiths, what does it mean to enter into “dialogue”? The most recent Cape Town Commitment addressed this question in the context of “living the love of Christ among people of other faiths.” In other words, instead of seeing other faiths to be one of confrontation, the CTC locates this word “dialogue” in the context of a life that witnesses to the love of Christ. I am sure that John Stott, for whom this was an important question, approved of how the CTC framed this.

But John Stott, in his classic book, Christian Mission in the Modern World (IVP Classics) , addressed “dialogue” in a different context: he used this word with an eye on the ecumenical movement which was becoming increasingly pluralistic and the other eye on the need for post Lausanne folks to sustain the importance of evangelism.

Are you involved in dialogue with other religions? What do you have to tell us? What have you learned? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

An observation: in re-reading this book I was impressed how conversant Stott was with the world ecumenical councils on evangelism and missions.

Dialogue is about a willingness to listen and to learn as well as to instruct. God, Stott observes, enters into dialogue with humans when God asks and waits for answers from humans. And there is the famous “come let us reason together” (Isa 1:18). Jesus dialogued. Paul did too (Acts 17:1-4): we see him teaching, debating, explaining, arguing, proving and proclaiming — in short, dialoguing across the spectrum of its behaviors. But it was subordinate to his overall aim of proclaiming the good news about Jesus.

He disapproves of major thrusts in the ecumenical councils on missions, including pushing back against Rahner’s “anonymous Christians.” So, he asks, is Christ present in the non-Christian world? [By the way, this was a significant theme in Rob Bell’s recent book.]

He looks at Acts 10:34-35, but he is not agreement with those who would see here an already-believer but one prepared to believe. God is known in the whole world, according to Paul. John says Christ is the light in the world. So there are reasons to think God is made known to all through reason and conscience, but this is not saving light (104) but is “twilight.”

Yes, he agrees, there is truth in all religions. But these are not adequate for salvation. So there is the need for proclaiming the gospel to all. He believes in “elenctics”: the Holy Spirit shaped preaching designed to lead people to Christ.

But, yes, too to dialogue: it is a sign of authentic, humility, integrity, and sensitivity.

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