Pensive Thankfulness

Today we celebrated the first year anniversary of our littlepensive church here in Baguio. It has been a challenging year… but I think we are stronger for it. Our older daughter sang a special number— “Thank You Lord For Your Blessings on Me.” She was trying to decide whether to sing that song or ‘Thank You Lord for the Trials that Come my Way.” Because of my limited guitar skills, she chose the former. Both songs are quite appropriate to our church’s struggles as well as her health challenges. She had to stop school for a year because of these challenges. Thankfully she is getting better, but it is difficult to disconnect from the rest of the world for many months. In fact, it was the first time for her to be able to join us in churchin a long time.

Both songs have a pensive (deep reflective) quality to it that defies the common kneejerk expression, “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.” How does one respond when God goodness is not clearly evidenced? How do we respond thankfully to loss, trials, struggles.

The song that my daughter sang was a favorite song of several women that we worked with years ago. We had a ministry with a number of women who sold plastic bags in the public market here in Baguio. Pretty much all of them would be considered desperately poor by “First World” standards. One lady, in particular, often would ask that this song be sung in our Bible studies. She came to Christ at a very low point in her life when she was raising up several children with little to no support. The change in her spiritual life did not suddenly change many of the struggles including economic. It is true, however, that over the last 14 years her situation has improved considerably, but still nowhere near where most people would consider “blessed.” She, however, liked to sing the song well before her situation improved.

I think thankfulness involves a certain amount of pensiveness and even melancholy. Our thankfulness should be based on a real understanding of our situation— the good, the bad, the ugly, the hopeful.

Thankfulness that is automatic, unthinking, is a “flabby” thankfulness— and perhaps it is not thankful at all. Thankfulness is for what we have, not what we pretend to have. Such thankfulness is at best an empty eggshell… containing nothing and far too fragile to help sustain us.

Thank you Lord, For your Blessings on Me

(The Easter Brothers)

G     A7       D     A7        D ,     A7

        D                            A7
As the world looks upon me, as I struggle along


     Em          A7           G           D

They say I have nothing, but they are so wrong 

                                                 G   
In my heart I'm rejoicing, how I wish they could see

D          A7             D          A7
Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me …....

Chorus           D                      A7
     There's a roof up above me, I've a good place to sleep

              Em         A7          G          D
     There's food on my table, And shoes on my feet

                                              
                                                    G
     You gave me your love Lord, And a fine family

           D               A7          D
Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me …..




Now I know I'm not wealthy, and these clothes, they're not new

I don't have much money, but Lord I have you

And to me that's all that matters, though the world cannot see

Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me ….

Chorus
--------

    G       D              A7         D
Thank you Lord, for your blessings on me

 

 

Advertisements

A Luring that is Without

Somewhat lengthy quote of W. Paul Jones in his book “Theological Worlds: Understanding the Alternative Rhythms of Christian Belief.” They are quoted backwards, in that the first two paragraphs are from page 14 while the third paragraph is from page 11.

“Tillich distills these conclusions to which the past centuries have brought us by insisting that human beings are uniquely characterized by the inability to exist without meaning. We are freaks, for while life all around us does unquestioningly what it seems structured to do, humans cannot quiet the question, Why? Such self-consciousness brings forth deep needs— to be meaningful, to be significant, to belong. These needs are not optional but appear to be essential to human existence as such.  …..

Peter Berger once observed that while dogs have an instinct for being dogs, humans alone are born into an unfinished world, one they must endeavor to complete in order to be able to call themselves human. Whatever functions as one’s ultimate concern in this endeavor provides the content designatable as one’s God. Such an understanding makes common cause with Augustine’s insistence that by nature, each person must love. The theological issue is not if, but who or what functions as one’s ultimate love.

We are restless, and thus religious, for we are never satisfied with the apparent, or tamed by the known limits. Rather, like a spider trapped in a bottle, we push at the boundaries of life and death, puzzle over strategies of good and evil, while dropping from a string hung daringly over the edges of mystery. The religious in each of us is an impulse to journey, to quest, to seek— for self-identity, belonging, legitimacy, meaning. And in the end, it is a hope worth believing that the impulse within has its counterpart in a luring that is Without.

In other words, our seemingly built-in desire for meaning— seeking to find god(s)— may actually be evidence of a God who is seeking to be found.

The Fish Model of Project Design

The following was a diagram that I had in my book, CHRISTIAN MEDICAL MISSIONS: Principles and Practices in the Church’s Role for Effective Community Outreach in the Philippines and Beyond. However, it is quite useful in Project Design for ministry, with special focus on the transitioning from a short-term event or project to a long-term program or ministry. The diagram looks a bit like a fish. Starting at the left side, moving to the right is the passage of time. The gap between the lower and upper lines involves the number of people involved.

ichthus

Point A: Initiation:  The idea for an event or prject comes from one person or a small group, and there is the decision to attempt to move forward with the idea.  (Those involves:  Perhaps 1 or 2)

Point B: Team-building:   This is the team-building phase. Buy-in is developed within the community and with outside help. Partnerships are developed and plans are worked out.(Perhaps the team involves 20 or 30).

Point C:  Seed Sowing:   Participants, the target group, are invited to participate in the event or project.  (The number targeted may vary wildly depending on the project. For a hands-on training, maybe 50 would be invited. For a medical mission, maybe 1000. For a city-wide evangelistic event, maybe tens of thousands.)

Point D: Event.  This is where the project/event is implemented. Most likely less will show up than was invited. (Perhaps 40% of those invited actually participate). During the event, there is intentional activity done to gather names, contact information, and such for those desiring to participate in activities that involve more commitment.

Points E and F.Filtering.  These are attempts to filter the initial participants to identify those who desire to be involved in a long-term program. 

Example #1.  For an evangelistic rally, one may gather names of those who walked forward to give their lives to Christ, or to dedicate themselves to Christ. Additionally, these people may be asked if they wish to join a church family or a home Bible study. After the event, follow-up will begin. Focus will be on those who expressed the most commitment (being part of a home Bible study), with secondary focus on those who desire a church family, next to those who expressed a desire to follow Christ, and last to those who simply attended without an expression of any commitment.

Exmaple #2.  A Children’s one-time event may be held. At that event, parents and children can be invited to a weeklong “Vacation Bible School.” Those who join the VBS can be invited to join a afternoon Bible club, or a church Sunday School.

Point G. Commitment Point. After the filtering proces, one reaches a small group that is ready to be committed to a long-term program. That program could be home Bible studies, a church, a community development program, or others. Although small in number, these have found value in what is being done, and are committed to be part of it over time.

Point H. Expansion. This where the committed group reaches out to others and begins to grow. Much of the growth would probably come from those who had initially expressed a lesser amount of commitment before, but now want to join with greater commitment.

Key Points

1.  There needs to be intentionality from no later than the team-building stage to do the project in a manner that allows it to support a long-term program. If that is not done, what often is left is a positive event and a prayer that “something good will come of this.” Prayer is important but when the event is designed in a manner that works against the prayer— well, there is a problem isn’t there?

2.  There needs to be follow-on activities that people are actively invited to commit to. One should not just assume “Oh, they know what they should do.” They don’t know what they should do if they are not invited.

3.  The invitations should be for things that are longer-term and involving a greater amount of commitment than the initial event.

4.  Embrace the idea that some will be lost on the way. This doesn’t mean they will be lost forever. Not everyone is prepared to commit long-term. You want to first find those who will… and then gradually expand to others.

Christian Mimicry (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

Image result for animal mimicry

Earlier I was looking at Passive Mimicry (to avoid being targeted or, positively, to demonstrate or promote belongingness).

But sometimes mimicry has a more Active Role. Rather than to help the person remain hidden, mimicry can be done to be seen.

1. Trying to Make Lightning Strike Twice.  In my previous post, I spoke of a worship leader I knew who “religiously” copied the style and movements of the Hillsong worship leaders, when leading church music. While I would never recommend this, I understand the logic. If the folks at Hillsong made it work and became successes… if I do the exact same thing, I should be successful as well. Right? Many people have complained that music that comes out of the Christian Music industry is so alike. While the similarities may not be overpowering, there is some truth to that. Industry produces what sells… and the presumption is that what sold yesterday is what will sell tomorrow.

We learn through modeling, so we do utilize models or examples of who we want to be. (I will simply not address whether Hillsong is a worthy model. They have been successful, and the fact that I find it generally uninteresting says little about them as a “worship industry.”) But mimicking is taking it further. Suppose someone wrote an Amish Romance Novel, and it made good money. That same author might produce another. If that is successful, it is likely that those books will become part of a series. It is also likely that other writers will suddenly be inspired by the potentials or writing a romance in an Amish community. Simply using an author as a model means you gain insight from them in the writing process. Mimicry, on the other hand, is taking their themes, settings, and style and putting one’s own name on it.

One of the big problems with mimicry is the next issue.

2.  It is an act of Creative Laziness. I suppose one could put this one under passive or active. Conformity (a passive form of mimicry) can be an act of laziness. However, the more interesting one is the active form.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is also the most subtle form of laziness.  Laziness is more easily identifiable in people who do not do much. It is harder to spot in those who do things that simply repeat what others have already done.

This has led, among other things, to Christianizing secular stuff. South Park has humorously spoken of this in Christian music— taking secular songs and replacing words such as “Baby” with them with other words such as “Jesus.”

Mike Warnke joked decades ago about preachers who mimic the styles of other preachers. Some do more than this, with taking sermons online and reading them in church. I have known many pastors who take such sermons, use them as guides but with study and reflection, make the sermons their own. I reckon that is not so bad. But I have heard preachers who read those sermons they got online… sentence for sentence… word for word. Perhaps some can hide it better than others… but generally you start to figure it out.  Simple terms, this is lazy and may be doing a disservice to God. But most definitely, one is doing a disservice to those that person is serving.

3.  Riding the Coattails. While mimicking can be a defensive move to remain hidden, it can be done deliberately in the hopes of future success. Sycophants commonly don’t just compliment or do favors for leaders. They are not just “Yes Men” and defenders of the indefensible (It is becoming harder and harder calling oneself an American Evangelical as the quest for power, or not losing power, has led many to defend that which seems indefensible). They will often also mimic the style, dress, manner of speech and so forth of their leaders. From a distance, this sort of mimicry may be one of the first two listed (lightning striking twice or creative laziness). But when the person is “close to the throne,” however, it is a form of flattery to get special blessings from the one in power.

4.  Ulterior Motive. This is always a tricky one. Why do we do what we do… and why the why?  Josh Keefe on Youtube (Why Christian Movies are BAD | The Problem with Christian Media – Part 2) has some interesting thoughts on this as it applies to Christian Movies. He notes that Christian filmmakers tend to not really be filmmakers (except in the technical sense of “making films”). That is, their calling tends to be as preachers— pushing a message to a specific audience. So what does this mean? Essentially, a person takes on a role of (mimic) a filmmaker. Filmmakers generally seeks to create a work of art for broad audience consumption. But when a preacher mimics that role, the motive is different. This person is  but is really seeking to preach to Christians. (If you don’t think they are commonly written to preach to Christians, watch a few of them and ask yourself, what images are Christians and non-Christians portrayed. Are atheists or agnostics portrayed as good people or bad caricatures?)

Is ulterior motive wrong? Personally, I think it is… if by that you define ulterior motive as “the REAL motive” as opposed to non-real or fake motives. I used to be involved with medical missions in the Philippines and even did my doctoral dissertation on them (and wrote a book based on the dissertation). I found that most Christians who did medical missions said that the REAL reason for doing medical missions is to evangelize.  Free medical care is just the lure– lure with a hook in it. But all too often, the real motive leaks out becoming very visible. In medical missions, it can show itself with inadequate or expired medicines, with utilizing inadequate (numerically or qualitatively) medical personnel, and generally playing hardball with the evangelizing and softball with the medical care. People notice it. The REAL motive thing can show itself in “friendship evangelism” where friendship goes bye-bye when the non-Christian does not respond the way the Christian seeks.

Ulterior Motive is a form of mimicry because it mimics a non-religious (not anti-religious… just non-religious) activity but with clandestine “Christian” purpose. It may be a problem because it is disingenuous… but equally because it is more obvious than people think. When you truly “Love your neighbor as yourself,” it looks a lot different than when you “Act in loving ways to people so that you can market your message.”

Critique

Of the reasons for Christian mimicry I listed over the last two posts, I think #2 and #4 concern me the most. Creative Laziness really should be seen as a sin… or at least a vice. Pushing the SHARE button on FB for some clickbait-y, feel good, “inspirational”… something or other is— well it’s lazy. Does that mean one should never do it? Not necessarily. Maybe a vice is a better description. Shopping for stuff you don’t need is a vice– wasteful a bit, but only truly a problem as it expands into a self-destructive behavior. Buying one lottery ticket a week is not the same as burning through one’s family savings to get the “BIG WIN” in online gambling. Creative laziness is so common in Christian circles that almost any originality is either praised as AMAZING, or shot down as something BAD (often more different than actually bad).

Ulterior Motive is also deeply problematic not only because non-Christians commonly see right through it… but also because many Christians think that is the way we are supposed to be.

Christian Mimicry (Part 1)

Mimicry: the ability an organism develops to imitate one or more traits from another organism (with which it’s unrelated) so that it can obtain some benefit.  (https://allyouneedisbiology.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/animal-mimicry/)

Let me give an example:  We haveImage result for animal mimicry been a part of several churches in the Philippines. Most Philippine churches assign music ministry to the youth in the church— a massive mistake often. I remember at one church, they had a young lady who led music with a group of youth playing guitar and drums and keyboard. This group really liked Hillsong. Hillsong doesn’t do much for me, but music has never been part of my worship language anyway. The worship leader mimicked Hillsong videos— right down to the style of singing, and the gestures and jumps. She was mimicking the look, style, and movements of the lead singer of those Hillsong videos.

But why mimic? What benefit is there in doing it? In the Animal World, mimicry done for reasons of predation as well as for defense. But why do Christians do mimicry? Some reasons don’t line up directly with those for the Animal World. Mimicking the looks of a poisonous animal in hopes of not being eaten by predators, does not correspond fully with human culture— but there are parallelisms.

Passive Benefits for Mimicry

1.  Avoid being targeted. This is where mimicry and camouflage overlap a bit. Let me give a story that typifies this:

Years ago I was working at a place that has “Christian Conferences.” One time I was acting as a server for a TD Jakes conference. When he got up to speak, he started out okay I suppose. However, about 15 or 20 minutes in he started leaving behind the main message and began complimenting the women in the front and center of the tent who were jumping up and down and acting all excited when Jakes spoke. He also began to deride those in the far corners who were just sitting there ‘doing nothing.’ I find that sort of pandering pretty despicable. It was clear manipulation. It made me wonder whether his claim that God had told him to minister to women was, cynically, actually an excuse to target a group that he felt he could manipulate more easily. The curious thing was that when I went to the corners of the tent I found out he was absolutely correct. Both back corners had around 20 or 30 women who were just sitting there. Some were even knitting. It made me wonder if they were actually asked or paid to do that. After all, people don’t like to be targeted by an abusive person. Most people want to fit into a crowd and be complimented for it.

Not everyone will do this of course. Years ago there was a tendency of some worship leaders to say things like, “Clap if you love Jesus!!” That would invariably make me put my hands in my pockets. Now it seems more common to say something like, “Let’s all give a clap offering to the Lord.” I will sometimes go along with that. The second is an invitation to join in an activity while the first tries shaming to control behavior. People will often mimic others in a group to avoid being targeted/shamed.

2.  To demonstrate belongingness. Churches and denominations develop a certain DNA, a certain culture. One of the purposes of culture is to help define who are US and who are THEM. The pressure for belongingness can be strong. Churches can be like Junior High Lunch Hall. There are different tables and some who fit into the culture of that table are welcomed, and while others are encouraged to look elsewhere. Some want to be with the cool kids, or the jocks, or some other esteemed group, and they will mimic the table’s group behavior in hopes of being found to belong. Even non-conformist tables still pressure people to conform to their brand of non-conformity. Churches can be like that as well. I am reminded of a song by Grady Tolands. If you haven’t heard of him it is because he was a missionary to South America, who wrote songs mostly for fun.  The chorus to one of his songs says,

“‘Cuz we love to be loved and we hate to be hated,

We like to be liked—- at least tolerated.

And everyone that I know feels that way too.

Yes, we love to be loved, and we hate to be hated,

We like to be liked— at least tolerated.

And that affects the things we say and do.”

In the next post, I will look at more agressive, or at least less passive forms of Christian mimicry.

Chapter 5. Models of IRD (part 2)

<Continued from previous post>

Poles” of Interreligious Dialogue

Harvie Cox has noted that interreligious dialogue must address two elements that exist between two different religions or faiths. These are the universalistic elements and the particularistic elements. Religions address universal human concerns and questions. Not only do they address common concerns, often they come up with many common answers. That being said, there are considerable differences between various religions. Ignoring these differences does a disservice to both religions.5

This author recalls having a long discussion with a member of the Baha’i faith. It was interesting in many ways, but was also rather frustrating. The individual would like to say that all religions in essence agree with each other– that all religions give the same answers. He would say that, and I would point out distinct differences between what his religion taught and my religion… to say nothing of the differences between other faiths. He would acknowledge the differences and then say that “No,” all religions agree. This conversation occurred over several weeks over 25 years ago. Perhaps today I would be able to follow the dance of words and concepts better. But it felt like he was embracing universalism to the point of self-contradiction. It all felt rather disrespecting. He honored one pole (universalistic pole) while dishonoring the other (particularistic pole). While I suppose he was seeking to give me comfort that “we all really agree,” I felt like my faith and beliefs were being disrespected.

Our differences were ignored, and feelings matter.

Meaningful and respectful dialogue must address and honor both the particularistic and universalistic elements of the two religions. When comparing this to the three models before:

Focusing on the particularistic elements or “pole” emphasizes the differences, and leads to a dialogue of argument. It disrespects the commonality of humanity that leads to common themes of religious inquiry and answers.

Focusing on the universalistic elements or “pole” emphasizes the commonalities and leads to a dialogue of relativization. It disrespects the unique foci and answers of different faiths.

Centering on either pole is disrespectful of the faiths and participants in one manner or another. However, one can embrace “creative tension” where the commonalities provide context to the particularities, and the particularities provide nuances to the commonalities. A clarification form of dialogue seeks understanding by not deemphasizing either pole. It respects the participants and the religions without underplaying or overplaying differences.

But Why Do Dialogue Anyway?

Perhaps it is a bit late to bring this up, but perhaps now that the major perspectives of dialogue have been presented, it is a good time to consider why one may choose to participate in IRD, particularly from a Clarification Approach perspective. This is not a complete list. But here is a start.

First, some familiarity of other faiths helps to identify the nature of that faith. Distant observation and second-hand information does not inform, it tends to misinform and confuse. Many religions utilize similar terms but with very different meanings. Some religions utilize very different terms but with very similar meanings. Both of these are difficult to recognize without practice and conversation.

Second, knowing other religions helps one to understand one’s own faith better. We learn to a great extent through comparison and contrast. For example, when Jesus shared, in the Sermon on the Mount, how the Kingdom of God “operates,” He did it by providing a series of contrasts to how the world tends to operate. Perhaps Jesus could have explained it without contrasts. He could have said that the Kingdom of God is loving, kind, forgiving, content, worshipful, and so forth. It would be quite easy to read all of that and feel pretty good about being part of the Kingdom of God. But by utilizing contrast, we discover how far we truly are from God’s ideal.

Third, knowing other religions helps one gain a sense of what are key differences and what are not. Key differences between Christianity and other religions are commonly in areas of Christology (the nature and work of Christ) and Soteriology (what is the nature and process of salvation). But some things that we might think are key characteristics of Christianity are also shared by most other faiths. Consider the Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control). While these may be qualities that can be identified in a growing Christian, most of these qualities are also promoted by other religions. They may evidence a growing Christian, but they may not identify Christian dogma versus non-Christian dogma. This, in fact, should hardly be surprising since Paul notes that against these, there is no law— in other words most everyone thinks these are good, or at least not bad.

Fourth, through contrast with other religions we can gain a clearer understanding of the broadness of our faith. Often when our understanding of religion is limited to our own faith, we end up majoring on minor issues. By learning about other faiths, one may understand that variety within valid expressions of Christianity.

Recently there was Twitter post circulating that stated to the effect that after 100 years of mission work only 12% of the Philippines is Christian. There are some obvious problems with these stats:

  • Christianity and Christian missions arrived in the Philippines nearly 500 years ago, not 100 years ago.

  • Over 90% of Filipinos describe themselves as Christians.

So how could he come up with the statistics shared? There are several assumptions made to arrive at these statistics:

  • Roman Catholic Christianity is absolutely classed as non-Christian,

  • Real Christian missions only started with the arrival of Protestant missionaries to the Philippines close to 1900 AD.

  • 0% of Roman Catholics in the Philippines are Real Christians

  • 100% of Protestants in the Philippines are Real Christians

Every one of those assumptions is highly suspect, but this is not the forum to discuss this. What is important is that these assumptions are the assumptions made through non-interaction. Christianity is understood only in terms of Protestantism. Thus Protestants are Christians and other traditions of Christianity are non-Christian. But is this true?

By knowing other religions better, we can also understand that we as Christians often share far more in common than we hold different. This is not to say that differences don’t matter, but at least be open to what Brian McLaren describes as a “Generous Orthodoxy.”6

From Book:  “Dialogue in Diversity: Christians in Conversation with a Multi-faith World

Chapter 5. Models of IRD (part 1)

Chapter 5 from “Dialogue in Diversity: Christians in Conversation with a Multi-faith World.”

Views of Salvation

There are many views regarding Interreligious dialogue. Not only are there many views, there are many labels and many classifications for IRD. In this book, we will use a spectrum based on the people’s understanding with regards the the prime function of dialogue. Figure 5 shows the range that is loosely divided into three general approaches. However, before we get to that, we can start with a different, but very much related, spectrum— perspectives on salvation. This is based generally on Alan Race’s three basic groups: Exclusivism, Inclusivism, and Pluralism.1 These three groups are pretty well agreed upon. Two more groups are added in Figure 4– Particularism and Universalism. Some people use the terms Particularist and Exclusivist interchangeably. Here, they will each have a different emphasis.

figure 4

Figure 4. Salvation Spectrum

An Exclusivist for a Christian means that only those who are Christian, embracing Jesus as their Savior will be saved. The term Particularist is often used to describe a narrower version of Exclusivist. Such a person may believe that salvation is mediated through their own faith group or denomination. As such, one is saved by Jesus, but it is only available to those within their own specific sect, or those who embrace a certain unique doctrine, or have participated in a special denominational ritual.

At the other extreme, on the far right are the Universalists. Universalists believe that God immediately or ultimately saves everyone. Jesus’ salvation is available to all, and effective for all.

In between the Exclusivists and the Universalists are two groups that overlap somewhat. These are the Inclusivists and the Pluralists. An Inclusivist would typically say something like, “Jesus is the means to salvation, but there may be some people who are saved by Jesus who do not necessarily know Jesus.” Some may believe that Jews can be saved through the faithfulness to the Mosaic Law even if they reject Jesus. Others may say that Muslims can be saved by Christ even though they reject His role as Savior and Lord because they worship the same God (God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). Even those who would normally describe themselves as Exclusivist, may have some Inclusivist views. For example they may believe that infants who die are saved by Jesus even though they don’t know Him. Or they may see the same with those who are too mentally disabled to understand the Gospel message and respond to it. Others may go further and say that those who have never heard the message of Christ may still be saved by Christ based on their response to the truth that they know.

Pluralists take this progression further. Some may say that Jesus is still Savior, but that pretty much anyone can be saved if they express Christlike love in their hearts regardless of their religion. Some continue further and take Jesus out of the picture and simply say that ‘There are many roads to Heaven.” For these Pluralists, along with Universalists, may consider themselves to be Christian, but would reject the uniqueness of Christianity.

Evangelicals traditionally are considered to be Exclusivists, although most would have believe at least a limited form of Inclusivism. However, the truth is that one can come across self-described Evangelicals (to say nothing of other Christians) who fit into all of the above categories.

Knowing where one fits into the above categories can be useful because the views regarding IRD correlate often with these categories. Looking at Figure 5, the spectrum is divided into three general approaches. Again, the key is not so much the fact that there are categories, but that it is on a spectrum. There is a wide range of views on dialogue that fit on to different places of this spectrum.

Apologetic Approach/Strategy. In this view, the purpose of IRD is to convert those of other faiths to one’s own faith. Therefore, argument is the most valid form of conversation. Typically, people who like this approach emphasize the differences and deemphasize similarities. This is because the goal is to correct the wrong beliefs of the other. Christians who are more Particularist or Exclusivist in terms of salvation often gravitate to this approach. This may also be described as the “confessional approach.” On the positive side, it could be said this method “gets to the point,” and “calls it like it sees it.” It is unapologetic in its faith commitment. On the other had, perhaps it can be a blurred view. To emphasize differences may also mean ignoring valuable similarities so one is actually seeing a distorted version of the other religion. Such a distorted view of the religion may hamper attempts influence the other person. Additionally, the method of argument, can lead to pushback or backfire as discussed in an earlier chapter.

figure 5

Figure 5. Dialogue Approaches/Strategies

Relativistic Approach/Strategy. Another name for this is the “Common-Ground Approach.” This view, at one extreme of the spectrum, seeks to be truth-seeking, as described by John Hick, rather than confessional when one approaches IRD. That is, one brackets one’s own beliefs or even tosses them aside so that one is better prepared to learn from those of other faiths. This approach tends to emphasize the similarities with other faiths. Those who are more Pluralistic or Universalistic Christians tend to find this approach to make more sense.2

Martin Buber has questioned that Hick’s view that this is actually “truth seeking.” He noted that if dialogue is seen as a quest for truth-seeking, why should it be presumed that a person who relativizes truth is more committed to truth than one who does not. Buber argues that what is needed in good inter-religious dialogue is not relativization of truth, but mutual respect.3

Karkkainaen quotes Moltmann in expressing a similar idea to Buber, that truth-seeking does not imply relativization of beliefs.

Dialogue has to be about the question of truth, even if no agreement about the truth can be reached. For consensus is not the goal of the dialogue. …If two people say the same thing, one of them is superfluous. In the interfaith dialogue which has to do with what is of vital and absolute concern to men and women—with the things in which they place the whole trust of their hearts—the way is already part of the goal.” Moltmann rightly says that only those people are capable of dialogue—“merit dialogue,” as he puts it—who “have arrived at a firm standpoint in their own religion, and who enter into dialogue with the resulting self-confidence.” Thus, Moltmann continues, “it is only if we are at home in our own religion that we shall be able to encounter the religion of someone else. The person who falls victim to the relativism of the multicultural society may be capable of dialogue, but that person does not merit dialogue.”4

Clarification Approach/Strategy. With this approach, one does not embrace confession/argument, but also does not relativize one’s beliefs either. In this approach, the focus is on mutual understanding. One may anticipate that if one extreme (Exclusivists and Particularists) gravitate toward Apologetic Approaches, and the other extreme (Pluralists and Universalists) gravitate toward Relativistic Approaches, then Clarification Approaches should be most attractive to Inclusivists. To some extent this is true. However, other groups can tend toward some form of Clarification Approach as well. Exclusivists, for example, often like the Clarification Approach.

Why is this? Exclusivists are often Evangelistic, meaning that they seek to share their faith with others with hopes that the others will convert to their own faith. However, not all agree as to how best this is done. Most would presumably agree that relativizing one’s beliefs would not be conducive to conversion. However, there is not so much unanimity as to whether argument (or straight up proclamation) or seeking understanding is more effective. Seeking understanding does tend to reduce misunderstanding and such a reduction is likely to reduce barriers to conversion.

<Continued in the next blogpost>