Interfaith Dialogue: For Liberals Only?

Interfaith Dialogue: For Liberals Only? October 18, 2012

I am sure at least some of you have worried that me moving to Patheos is a sign that I have become ecumenical or worse still a liberal. Evangelicals have always had a somewhat tortured relationship with ecumenicism and what is usually done under the name of “interfaith dialogue.” The reason for this is really quite simple: we care profoundly about our integrity, and our truth claims. In other words, we do not want to engage with others in a way that suggests all views are equally valid, and that we can never know which of us is actually correct. In fact, some go so far as to try to imply that we all can simply agree, that the different faiths basically teach the same thing.

Even when it comes to interacting with others who claim the name “Christian” to imagine that we all can reach a point of doctrinal agreement is patently absurd. Reading my “spectrum posts” shows that Christians disagree on gender roles, homosexuality, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Calvinism, hell and salvation, and evolution to mention just a few! In this life we will never agree on everything even with other Christians.

When it comes to those of other faiths the differences are of course still more profound. So, whilst for example it is true that there are some things about Jesus that Christians and Muslims agree with each other on, there are some pretty critical things about him we disagree on.

A number of evangelicals have found, on attending heart-sink ecumenical and interfaith forums where the agenda seems to be to sweep our differences under the carpet, surprise surprise, many from other faiths do not want to play such silly games either! No, instead of engaging to pretend we are the same, we should engage respectfully to learn from each other and to understand our differences.  Some call this multi-faith rather than inter-faith.

So, to be absolutely clear, I have not lost my faith. I still believe that Jesus is the only way to God, he himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 ESV). I also believe that the only way to be sure that you are going to heaven is by expressing your faith in Jesus, following him, and believing in his physical resurrection. As Paul puts it, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9 ESV).  I do also believe that God has promised us all, “seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:29 ESV)

But I understand not everybody agrees with what I said in the last paragraph, and I respect their right to disagree!

To me, none of this is particularly radical, but here is what I want to do in my interactions both online and offline with those of other faiths.  Feel free to haul me up if you think you see me breaking one of these principles:

  1. Always speak in a respectful way, never mock or dismiss others simply because they have different views to me.
  2. Never assume that people understand what I am saying. Ask. And, try to communicate in a way that other people will understand – see for example this post titled “Did God have sex with Mary
  3. Never assume I understand what people are saying to you. Ask questions. Seek to truly understand their perspective rather than constructing a straw man.
  4. Build friendships with others who disagree with me.
  5. Do not be afraid to explain what I believe or why I believe it if asked.
  6. Be honest about our differences and not try to pretend we all agree, but be willing to acknowledge where we do agree.

All I am really saying is that we should obey the command of Scripture to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and as it says in a verse that should be a motto for every evangelical,

“. . .in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16, NIV)

I really love the way Bob Roberts puts all this in the short video I share below. If you don’t already, make sure you follow him on Twitter.

“I live in America and I believe in freedom of religions, and I want everybody to be able to express their faith, but I don’t want anyone to compromise their faith, but I want everyone to be able to get along in their faith. . .we should not let our disagreements in theology keep us from being in relationship with one another. ”  Bob Roberts

Watch the rest below




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  • Alisdair Semple

    Hi Adrian
    Thanks for this. Am finding myself being drawn into some interesting places, but just working out how best to proceed!

  • John Evans

    Hello Adrian,

    Thank you for writing out this important message. It is unreasonable for anyone, I think, to expect respectful treatment if they are not willing to offer respectful treatment to others. Moreover I am of the opinion that it is a sign of insecurity to be unwilling to listen to the points of view of others.