%&$# the paradigm!

by Kim on November 13, 2007

I have long been unhappy with the standard paradigm on “Christianity and other faiths”: exclusivism, pluralism, and inclusivism. Exclusivism, in its ideological hostility to other faiths, so privileges Christianity that it rules out dialogue in principle: truth hectoring error is a rant, not a conversation. Pluralism, bless, in its we-all-worship-the-same-God tolerance, so relativises truth, or reduces it to some numinous-experience-lite, that it allows for no more than an anodyne co-existence between faiths. Inclusivism righly dismisses the absurd and scurrilous notion that all non-Christians are damned, and it takes the question of truth seriously, but, frankly, it is rather patronising, tastefully picking out the acceptable theological meat in other faiths and delicately throwing away the bones.

In his important book Theology and the Dialogue of Religions (2002), Michael Barnes writes: “If there is an alternative to a theology of ‘other religions’, it will emerge from a reflection on ‘the other’, not on ‘religion’,” on “the providential mystery of otherness … revealing possible ’seeds of the Word’.”

At last night’s Swansea University Theological Society lecture that Richard mentions (below), Saif Ahmad certainly sowed some seeds. He referred in his talk to a famous story about a disciple of another faith known as the Good Samaritan, whose person and work Muslim Aid demonstrably embodies.

During the evening, two sayings from Eastern Orthodox theologians occurred to me. I thought of the first during question-time, when someone asked whether Muslim Aid meets the spiritual as well as the material needs of the poor. Sergius Bulgakov said: “Bread for myself is a material quesion; bread for my neighbour is a spiritual question.”

The second saying occurred to me as I was trying to sense the unspoken reactions of those attending the lecture. The majority, I think, were Muslims, and I suspected that not all of them were happy with Saif Ahmad’s apparent lack of Islamic evangelical zeal. At the same time I suspected, ironically, that members of Swansea’s evangelical Christian churches were largely conspicuous by their absence. Paul Evdokimov, however, said: “We know where the church is; it is not for us to judge where the church is not.”

After the lecture, Richard and I shared in a meal at the campus mosque. As discipleship surely entails an expectation of dispossession and an openness for Christ in unexpected places - like at a table on a floor, with strangers left and right - it was, I dare say, a holy communion, and the perfect climax to a wonderful evening.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }


dh 11.13.07 at 3:11 pm

While I wholeheartedly disagree with you in your support (however limited) with inclusivism, I agree there needs to be more care by having more dialogue between those of other faiths and those of Faith. While many might see this as more “patronizing”, I still believe that there is a progression for people who are so commited to their “other faith” as opposed to real “Faith”. We an be friends, we can disucss kindly, we can for lasting bonds of peace with those we disagree with, we can look (after establishing over time) to share our Faith with others so they can have Faith as opposed to faith, we should look to help those who ask questions or have a spiritual void due to their faith and help them have Faith, we can care for the sick, poor and needy of other faiths and at the same time look to care for those things physically and Spiritually. (all of these are not in any particular order I know I mentioned one set more than the other and mentioned it first but that is not the point)

While I take issue to inclusiveness dismission, I believe there is a balance where we can for lasting bonds with “other faiths” and at the same time over a long period of time or short period of time, depending on proper dicernment from the Holy Spirit, help them away from faith to Faith.

To me helping the spiritual needs is fulfilling the “Great Commision” and helping the physical needs is fulfilled in the “Good Samaritan” and both are equally needed and you can’t have one without the other depneding on how much time you have with your friend of the “other”.

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