Communication between different religions Can we talk? Why should we talk? How should we talk?
Can we Talk? Some would say that interfaith dialogue is simply impossible. Derek Philips believed that one may simply not be able to communicate in a meaningful way between religions. “If certain religions have enough in common, then there is a basis for discussion. If not, then the basis for such a discussion is lacking.”
Christians searching for a common starting point in dialogue with other religions have gone through three stages. Christocentric Theocentric Pneumatocentric
Although many have drifted to Theocentric or Pneumatocentric points for discussion, Harvie Conn recommends Christocentric. He believes Christ provides a point of common interest, and a guide for dialogue.
Why should we talk? To bring people to our viewpoint? To understand each other better? To gain insights from each other? Maybe… all three?
How should we talk? Proclamation/Preaching? Instruction/Teaching? Apologetics/Argument? Dialogue/Discussion?
Preaching has its place. So does teaching and argument. However, Christians should become better at dialogue. ---Dialogue tends to break down hindrances to conversion. ---Dialogue leads to better understanding. ---Dialogue leads to greater insight of each other.
But isn’t Dialogue bad? John Hick believes that dialogue means that one must switch from being confessional to being truth-seeking. (Toss aside our beliefs and seek new truths.) But that presumes that those who are most interested in truth are those that don’t know what is true. Why assume that?
Martin Buber’s Response “the presupposition of genuine dialogue is not that the partners agree beforehand to relativize their own convictions, but that they accept each other as persons.”
Christ’s Guide for Interfaith Dialogue (based on Harvie Conn) Jesus always moves the discussion from theory to practice. “The reign of God is not an abstract ideal; it is a reality actualizing itself in history.” Jesus reminds us that “religion is always a mixed blessing. Jesus, after all, was fiercely opposed by many (not all) of the religious people of his day.”
Christ’s Guide for Interfaith Dialogue (based on Harvie Cox) Part II “Jesus' example reminds us also that the search for human oneness-in-diversity in interreligious dialogue is not only a matter of making judgments; it sometimes requires refraining from judgment.” Jesus guides us to “expect to find God already present in the "other," including the one with whom we are in dialogue, no matter how strange or unfamiliar that other's ideas or religious practices may seem.”
Is there risk in dialogue? Yes! Some have fallen beside the way because they fell prey to the arguments of others. However, Christians have never been called to avoid all risks… certainly not risks with a high possibility of gain.
Can learning from other religions be beneficial? Peter and Cornelius describes a win-win in interfaith conversation. Cornelius left his former faith and became a Christian. However, Peter also learned a great deal from Cornelius. Being an Apostle of Christ did not mean that he had nothing to learn from a syncretistic pagan. One could even argue that Peter was, in a sense converted. He now knew that the Gospel of Christ is revealed and available to Gentiles. (Anderson, 188-190)
Works Cited Anderson, Norman “Christianity and World Religions: The Challenge of Pluralism” Cox, Harvey. “Many Mansions or One Way? The Crisis in Interfaith Dialogue”. The Christian Century. August 17-24, 1998. p. 731-735. Karkkainen, Veli-Matti. “How to Speak of the Spirit Among Religions: Trinitarian ‘Rules’ for a Pneumatological Theology of Religions.” International Bulleting of Missionary Research, Vol. 30 No. 3. p. 121-127. McLaren, Brian D. Finding Faith: A Self-Discovery Guide for your Spiritual Quest. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999). Vroom, Hendrick M. Religions and the Truth: Philosophical Reflections and Perspectives.