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>

Book Finally Complete– “Dialogue in Diversity”

It is finished. The battle is over. Yesterday, January 12, 2019 I put my book “Dialogue in Diversity— Christians in Conversation with a Multi-faith World” out into the world. It has been a slow process, and am thoroughly glad it is over.

That being said, I now feel trepidation at putting it out for all to see. I suppose that is strange since many parts of the book I have put on my blog. I suppose it is because I take a topic that is quite divisive, “interreligious dialogue,” and take a moderate view. While in many cases, taking a position that is inclusive is a good idea, in religion, that is often quite risky.

One side often sees interreligious dialogue (IRD) as problematic. What they may see as IRD, is really proclamation and argument. For these people I argue strenuousl that not only are the goals of proclamation and argument not supposed to be goals of IRD, but the goals that these people do have are commonly not achieved well with the methods of proclamation and argument.

On the other side, there is a tendence to relativize truth in interreligious dialogue, looking for “common ground.” For these people I argue strenuously that those who practice their faith as true can and should desire people to share a similar commitment. Therefore, even if they hold dialogue for mutual understanding, this mutual understanding is foundational to breaking down barriers that prevent conversion.

In other words, the book is pretty much written to make no one all that happy. But I am not so sure that books are supposed to make people happy— at least generally. Generally, books should make people think. Hopefully, my book achieves that.

As of 13 January 2011 only the Kindle version is available online HERE. Hopefully, in a few hours the paperback version will be available.

What I Want For Christmas

My wife has asked me several times what I want for a Christmas. I am really not a gift person. Finally, I gave in to the fact that my cellphone needs to be replaced. It has had a big crack down the middle of the screen for over a year (some discoloration but still works), and a battery that lasts for shorter and shorter periods. I now have a new one that unfortunately doesn’t accept my SIM cards. But I am happy with it.

Later I realized what I REALLY wanted for Christmas. No, it isn’t “Peace on Earth, Good Will to all Peoples,” although that wouldn’t be so bad.

What I really want is to finish my book. I have been working on my book “Dialogue in Diversity” for a year or two now. The first draft is done, and I have been SLOWLY editing it. But I realized that I really want to have it done for Christmas.

I now have it fully edited and footnoted for the first 70 pages. But there is no way I will have it done by Christmas Day. HOWEVER, there are 12 days of Christmas, not just one. The Twelve Days are December 25th until January 5th. So my goal is to finish the book and get it online by January 5th, the 12th day. If that fails I can go with January 6th, Epiphany.

To achieve this, I will do no more posts in 2018. This makes my 124th post this year and that is MORE THAN ENOUGH.


Merry Christmas

Happy (International) New Year

Joyous Epiphany

Blessed 2019





The Joy in Not Singing

A few months ago, although I only read it today, was an article in entitled, “Why We Need to Sing in Worship Even When We Do Not Know or Like the Song” by Chuck Lawless. You can click on the title to see the link. It is pretty brief and lists

  1. It’s right to sing God’s praises.
  2. Not singing sends the wrong signal.
  3. Some songs you don’t like are quite biblical.
  4. We can learn a song best by singing it.
  5. We model worship for others as we sing.
  6. Singing with the rest of the congregation promotes and reflects unity.
  7. Singing encourages the ones leading the singing.

I will ignore part of the article that looks at those who don’t sing a song because they don’t know the words. For me that is just kind of lazy. One may as well take the time to learn a new song once in awhile. Because of that, I will ignore reason #4, since my bigger concern is those who don’t sing because they do not like the songs.

Image result for bean singing in church

I find myself sympathizing with those who do not sing because they don’t like the songs, even though I USUALLY DO sing. That is because I found great freedom in recognizing that I had a choice to sing or not.  Years ago, my family were members of a church in Virginia that had a great music program led by a very competent worship leader. But he had one specific quirk that I really struggled with. So many services he would have us sing, over and over and over, the chorus portion of “Surely the Presence of the Lord is in This Place” — a song with NO discernible merit. We would keep singing it and I would get annoyed. Over the weeks, my annoyance moved to humor. It was funny in away… like a person who can’t stop saying “Ummm” while talking (I have that problem). Then I moved to being analytical. I started going through each line. Every line was either untrue, obviously true, or trite (or a combination). Eventually, I moved from irrituation to humor to analysis and finally to anger. Why should I be held hostage by the worship leader and forced to sing a crappy song?

But then one day I had an epiphany. I don’t have to sing. I can stand there, close my eyes, meditate perhaps, and just tune out the song. My attitude improved almost immediately. Since then my experience in worship services has improved immensely because I found that unity does not necessitate uniformity. And it goes beyond simply singing. When the worship leader says things like “Clap if you love Jesus” I don’t have to see it as cyncial manipulation, but as a simple suggestion. I can also NOT CLAP to show I love Jesus!!

Looking at the reasons listed above (ignoring #4 as I said before) the one I have the biggest problem with is #3: “Some songs you don’t like are quite Biblical.” I am totally at a loss what to make of that. Eating is EXTREMELY Biblical, but I can’t see that it is wrong to skip a meal or go on a diet. A song that is strong in theology has a greater obligation to connect mind and heart than some pithy anthem. I can hardly see how being Biblical (or I would prefer theological) lowers the standards one places on a song.

Probably the reason that bothers me next most is #6.  “Singing with the rest of the congregation promotes and reflects unity.”  It points to two issues that I have. One is the suggestion (that is so common in church) that unity implies uniformity. The unity argument has been used to argue against blended (style) worship, to argue for homogeous group churches, to require all members use the same Bible translation, to maintain certain dress codes or hair stylings, and more. More generally, it supports the idea that the majority (or the clerical minority) establishes the culture and the rest need to go along to “demonstrate unity.” The second problem is the general tone that BEHAVIOR IS WHAT COUNTS NOT WHAT GOES ON IN THE HEART OR MIND.

In fact, it seems like a lot of the arguments have that as the unspoken assumptions. One could rewrite most of them to make the unspoken spoken.

  1. It’s right to sing God’s praises our way.
  2. Not singing our songs our way sends the wrong signal.
  3. ________________________
  4. ________________________
  5. We model going through the motions of worship for others when we sing as we are told.
  6. Singing with the rest of the congregation promotes and reflects uniformity of behavior that can be imagined to be worship.
  7. Singing encourages the ones leading the singing not to change a thing.

Franklhy, I am not that radical. I dislike an awful lot of songs that are popular in the church today, but I usually sing. Commonly I sing to show unity with the congregation rather than for the sake of worship since singing really isn’t my form of worship. But there are a few songs that sabotage my church (read “worship” if that helps you) experience. (That song that has the chorus “Yes Lord Yes Lord Yes Yes Lord” is one that immediately comes to mind). In such situations, I feel that embracing my diversity within a unity that does not require uniformity isn’t so bad.

Frankly, we live in a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-tradition Christian world. The church really should find ways to honor this rather than simply pushing people to “do exactly what the song leader tells you to do.”

And if the worship leader starts to question the wisdom of mimicking his favorite Hillsong videos (right down to every move and intonation of the lead singer), or rapidly supplanting old songs with new because— well— they are new, or generally turning the “worship” experience into a performance-based “spectator experience”…. hey that is not such a bad thing either, now is it?  I know the counter to this is that if the congregants have problems with the songs, they should talk to the church leadership about it privately. Fair enough. But just as in church some people vote with their hands, some with their wallets, and some with their feet (regardless of leade’s preferences in this area), one should not be surprised if some vote with their singing voices, not just with their speaking voices.



The Creedal Life of Jesus

As a Baptist, I am from a non-creedal tradition. But we all summarize our beliefs. We can summarize it well as a community or poorly as individuals. The more ancient creeds I find more valuable since they point to our common heritage and faith. We need that reminder.

Of course, creeds don’t just express common beliefs but common issues. The Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed express a common faith, but also point out what we seen as deeply important at the time. For example, both of them speak about the nature of Christ, the birth of Christ and the Death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Understandable that these are important. These are still the issues that schismatic groups challenge. There are, however, very important things about the life of Christ. Jesus is a teacher, prophet, healer, and model for the Christian. These really should not go unacknowledged in any creed.

Jurgen Moltmann’s addendum to these creeds are worth reflecting on. It may be wrong to change an ancient creed, but the Christian church has always been a creed-creating industry (even the Baptists do regardless if they are given less binding and timeless terms like “articles of faith” or “faith and message.”). Moltmann’s addendum seems a valuable addition to the ancient creeds, that they and we as Christians can wholeheartedly agree to. That being said, I doubt updated creeds will ever be done. The Filoque controversy points to how difficult it is to deal with even extremely trivial issues in creeds.

Anyway, feel free to read the article at the link above.

Rejecting Christ in a Rejected Land

Jesus was traveling with his core Image result for fire from heavendisciples to Jerusalem for the final time. As was his practice, he traveled through Samaria rather than avoiding it. Having to stay overnight in that region, he sent a couple of His disciples ahead to prepare a place for them to stay. As these two arrived at the village gates, a group of elders stopped them and began to question them. They wanted to know where they were going. They wanted to know why Galileans would be traveling in this part of Samaria. They wanted to know why they should show hospitality to these Jewish travelers.

The elders said, “Why should we show hospitality to you? You are traveling to your beautiful temple in Jerusalem, walking right by the mountain on which the ruins of our temple resides— destroyed by YOUR people generations ago. You treat us as unclean… worse than the Greeks that bring their sinful practices into your land, and the Romans that bring heavy taxes and all sorts of misery.  Would you welcome us into your own village? …Into your own house? Ridiculous! Push off.”

The two disciples were shocked. They have been treated with disrespect before. But these were Samaritans! It was like these Samaritans were considering themselves superior to them! Ridiculous indeed.

Returning to the group, they passed on to Jesus and the disciples what happened. James and John, the fiery and protective brothers, reacted the strongest.

James said, “Samaritans! Treating us like dogs?”

John chimed in. “Yes. And such a miserable village. Rejecting the Lord’s anointed… something should be done.”

Putting their heads together for a moment, they strode over to Jesus with determination and fire in their eyes.

“Lord,” they said. “Do you want us to call down fire to destroy this village?”

Amusement and anger danced across the face of Jesus. But He knew that His time was short and so this learning moment could not be lost.

Jesus called the others over and said to them, “James and John here want to bring down fire on this village. What do you think about this idea?”

The disciples looked at each other awkwardly. Some nodded but then stopped uncertain what was the appropriate response. Not waiting for a response, Jesus pushed forward.

“We have been rejected. Do they deserve death because of this? Should we hate them because they hate us?”

More uncertain looks but the disciples were starting to see where this was going.

Jesus continued. “But do they hate us? They don’t even know us. And we don’t know them. All they know is that our ancestors fought with their ancestors. I can assure you that our ancestors and their ancestors are done fighting. And we should stop fighting as well. So I have a better plan. Let’s go to a different village.”

Everyone nodded, even James and John. It was a much better plan.

<A somewhat speculative reflection on Luke 9:51-56>