Where Are the Evangelicals?

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This week I attended a vigil at my local city hall for the victims of the mosque shooting in Quebec City in 2017. This year the event was much more inter-religious. I wondered if this was because of the shooting in the Synagogue in Pittsburgh. There was representation from the Jewish community, the Hindu community, the Sikh community, the Buddhist community, the Christian community, and the Indigenous community. The Hindu community had experienced their own tragedy when their temple was burned down just after 9/11, mistaken for a mosque.

The speeches were generally empathetic and uplifting. I appreciated especially the Jewish perspective. One Rabbi, after asking permission, put on his prayer shawl and blew his Shofar. The general themes revolved around increasing Islamophobia and, more generally, increasing hate speech affecting all religious communities. I left the event hopeful that we can work together as faith communities to counter increasing intolerance.

I did feel that something was missing though. The Christian sister who gave a short speech from a mainline Christian denomination spoke on solidarity and justice. She sought to make connections with the different faith groups present. What was missing? The Muslim speakers did not hesitate to mention the prophet Muhammad. One also mentioned a story about Jesus and his disciples from the Quran. The Hindu speaker did not hesitate to speak from a Hindu perspective. The Jewish speaker quoted the Bible. I would have liked to have heard the name of Jesus mentioned from a Christian perspective. Perhaps the Christian speaker could have begun with “peace to you all in the holy name of Jesus whom we honor.”

Of course it is easy for me to criticize, not being involved in a more formal role. I think the underlying problem is that evangelicals (and here I am including our Reformed community) are not at the table. Inter-religious events are often attended by our mainline Christian brothers and sisters and I appreciate their efforts to work for understanding and peace. Evangelicals have been slow to enter into these kinds of inter-religious events and dialogues. This leaves a big gap in the way Christians present our faith tradition at these events. Only one Christian perspective is evident, and our friends of other religious traditions get an incomplete picture of the Christian faith.

Where are the evangelicals? Let’s step up and get involved in inter-religious dialogue. Let’s pray and act so that the name of Jesus is honored in these settings.

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The problem is so called "civil religion" which those of us in evangelical (or if you prefer "orthodox Reformed") traditions have sought to avoid. It is a difficult balancing act of wanting to be out among our communities proclaiming the Gospel but not pretending that Jesus Christ is simply "another path" and putting him on a mantle next to pagan gods of other religions. In the U.S. a lot of these tensions arose in the wake of 9/11 when there were several "interfaith vigils". 

I am no theologian and I don't have a simple answer, I would just say that we need to carefully consider interfaith engagement and certainly steer clear of any forum where we are not able to declare Christ as "the way, the truth and the life". 

Community Builder

Thanks Jason for staying "on topic" and for your thoughts on this. You nail the tension in the universalist approach of some groups. It is important that we can declare Jesus as the way, truth and life. Lesslie Newbiggin is someone who charted an course in interfaith engagement that both did that yet opened the way for the religious other to speak and be heard. One way he did that was by focusing on witnessing rather than judging. I think also the Reformed doctrine of common grace helps us to look for where the Holy Spirit is shining through in other religions while at the same time remembering the antithesis of Romans 1 - that there is demonic subjugation as well - and for sure a human fallen tendency to create idols - but I am not comfortable painting other religious traditions with one brush (all demonic or all true). There is a complex mix - this ministry is messy and I value a place for discussion like this. 

Community Builder

Hi Greg,

With all due respect, If the doctrine of "common grace" teaches that the Holy Spirit is "shining through in other religions", then I am afraid I do not believe in common grace.  The Holy Spirit is not a force or a emanation - the Holy Spirit is a person, and he communicates to us the "way, truth, and life" through the Word and Sacraments - outside of these things, there is only darkness.

Jesus said:  "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad." 

Paul teaches:  "As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed."

There is indeed a sharp divide between believer and unbeliever, between the way of truth (believers in the Triune God through Christ) and the way of lies.  There is no light in the darkness, and there is no darkness in the light:

"This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5)

Community Builder

Excellent rebuttal Izaak. I am glad to see we are on topic.  Not everyone agrees with the doctrine of common grace. I believe the Protestant Reformed Church rejected this doctrine. According to Berkhof's Systematic Theology. Calvin referred to common grace alongside special grace as curbing the destructive power of sin in the world, maintaining a measure of good order in the world as well as a moral order. This doctrine was further developed by Kuyper and Bavinck. Unlike special grace, it doesn't originate in the atoning work of Christ but rather the creation order. It comes from the idea that God sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Rom 2:15 talks about knowing God but hindering the truth in unrighteousness. So I think this doctrine can help explain the moral order of other religious traditions. However this is not special or saving grace that can only come through Jesus and in fact the moral order can become an idol in itself (merit based legalism). So I can respect my religious neighbor for his or her charity or devotion to prayer without saying that they have found actual salvation in their religion. I think this is helpful. Perhaps "shining through" was an overstatement. Peaking through maybe. But the light is Jesus - that is something we should emphasize for sure. I hope that makes sense.

In reading Kuyper's views on common grace, he seems to start not with creation order, but with the Noahic Covenant. 

The PR's do indeed reject common grace, but they are an extreme outlier on the issue. 

I have found, even in our small tradition, there are many different understandings of common grace. At a minimum we should be able to agree that certain institutions such as the government or civic organizations like a Rotary Club are a form of mercy that God graciously provides all people. Historically, we have discouraged members from engaging in institutions that imply equality of different religions, this is why the CRCNA has been strongly critical of Freemasonry, for example. 

It is good for Christians to engage in all spheres of life including those ruled by the "Left Hand" (to use a John Calvin term) such as government, commerce and other institutions. Not only are these venues where we may interact, build relationships with and hopefully share the Good News with non-believers, but they are honorable unto themselves- ordained by God. I can also see the legitimacy of dialogue with leaders of other faith traditions, particularly in missions context for example where we are attempting to maintain peace and find ways to live and work together while respecting our differences.

I would still be very reluctant, though, to attend an "interfaith" service where prayers and ceremonies to other gods are performed. My 2 cents, fwiw

 

Community Builder

Thanks Jason for filling in a little more about common grace. I was mainly thinking of dialogue situations, and civic events like the one referred to in my post. Interfaith worship events are definitely trickier - I don't want to endorse them point blank. I think there are a number of factors that maybe necessitates another post. I do not want to enter into a setting where I appear to be giving allegiance to other belief systems and gods - that would be a more corporate interfaith worship setting. I have from time to time visited the mosque and then prayed quietly in the back in my own way (praying for Jesus to guide me in my visit and be honored in this place). That is a little different. When we are invited to more ceremonial services (that can be considered prayers, etc) after traumatic events in the wider community then we have to prayerfully discern if our presence, as you mention, will be a missional witness to our deep faith in the biblical revelation and a very Christ like desire to build peace and bring healing - or the opposite - that Christians don't really believe in anything because we are so secularlzed. Not easy.

Thanks for an interesting conversation on the topic of Christian evangelism in the public arena.  Greg, in your above article, you wonder why evangelicals (or even classically minded Christians) are not stepping up to the plate and proclaiming Jesus publically.  To someone standing on the sidelines, the answer seems obvious.  “Jesus” is a bit of an embarrassment.  He doesn’t fit into the common ground by which other religions see as a solution to the problem of religious intolerance.  Even the mainline minister whom you mentioned seems to recognize this.  Jesus represents the height of Christian superstition, and most people including those of other religions recognize this (even those at this religious vigil).  Superstition (even Christian superstition) will not help solve the problem of religious intolerance. 
           
Classical Christians have long proclaimed that the problem of sin is solved in turning to Christ who paid the price as a substitute for sinners.  Christians have, over the ages, spoken of the unique nature of Christianity over all other religions.  All religions are self help religions (so say Christians).  People can better themselves, even making themselves acceptable to God.  But not so for the Christian.  So a classical Christian standing in a pool of non Christian religious people will stand out like a sore thumb.  He/she is radically different at the base.  This is the superstition of Christianity, and it is not welcome, even among other religions.  Such a vigil as you attended, Greg, are looking for a common ground, and classical Christianity doesn’t offer that.  And if you pretend there is you are coming close to hypocrisy.   That’s the obvious reason Christians don’t fit into an interfaith dialogue.

And so the hesitancy of Jason is that to enter the fray with non Christian religions, as though there is a common ground, when there isn’t.  To enter into a dialogue with other religions as though we had something in common is hypocrisy.  The Christian’s ultimate answer is Jesus and him alone.  I think the PR’s hesitancy to jump on the common grace bandwagon is that it tends to compromise the Christian stand on “Christ alone.”  Common grace is like putting a band-aid on a terminal illness.

So the answer that Christians offer the world (non Christian and those of other religions) is foolishness.  Christianity has nothing to contribute to religious harmony amongst all religions and non religions. And because even Christians know this, why embarrass themselves by proclaiming their unique superstition among non believers?  Thanks for allowing the input.

Community Builder

You have some good insights Roger and I understand your position. I noticed this at the Parliament of World Religions as Christianity fit into that community (from my perspective) as an ethical system. This was also the theme of the conference. But it does conveniently avoid the scandal of the cross and salvation through Christ alone. This is a challenge for sure - and your caution about avoiding hypocrisy is important.

One solution that some of my colleagues are experimenting with is Scriptural Reasoning. It allows the dialogue to arise from sacred texts and makes space for each participant to read and explain his or her sacred text. The others listen intently and try to understand. The good thing about this is that all texts are fair game including ones that speak to the uniqueness of the Christian message of salvation by grace (choosing texts is of course up to the discretion of the participants). I think this has potential to both witness clearly to the Gospel yet also contribute to religious harmony. Perhaps we need to be ready to "embarrass" ourselves in such settings.

     Thanks, Greg, for the continuing dialogue.  I would question the value of the “Scriptural Reasoning” approach, at least to an evangelical effort.  Such an approach appears, to me, to be more of an intellectual approach.  It’s an approach in which each religion presents its own perspective as the best approach to God.  No one is at such a session to be convinced of another religion, especially Christians.  Other participants may be listening to each perspective, but listening with the idea of how to defend their own religion.  In the end it would be similar to a class on world religions, an intellectual approach to religious differences. Such an approach is not geared toward evangelism.  In such a setting there is little embarrassment in expressing religious ideas.  It is expected.  But I doubt that the Scriptural Reasoning approach has any or little effect as to evangelism.

     I mentioned the embarrassment Christians typically feel in doing evangelism in the public arena.  It’s easy to speak of Jesus Christ in a church setting or a seminary or Bible college setting where all believe basically the same.  It’s easy to write articles and make comments on a Christian website, where Christian dialogue is expected. 

     But it’s altogether different when a Christian is placed in hostile territory.  Christians realize that the Christian message of Jesus does not stack up to reason or common sense.  It’s a message that has to be acknowledged by faith apart from reason.  That God is a three person being of which the second person came to earth as a human baby makes little sense (even to the Muslim).  Or that Jesus is fully human and fully divine at the same time, but as to his humanity never sinned or did wrong, even as a child or a teenager, makes little sense.  And we could go on with the improbabilities of Jesus’ miraculous life, and so the non Christian reasons quickly that Christianity makes little common sense.  It’s difficult for the Christian (especially in Western culture) to evangelize in a cultural setting where reason and common sense wins the day.  That has increasing become the embarrassment of making a stand for Jesus in our culture. 

     Again, as to common grace being a segue to the Christian faith.  Perhaps there is a place for common grace in Christian thinking, that God works through other avenues other than the Christian message which is common to all people.  But common grace is not the Christian message.  A message of God’s common grace skirts the Christian message altogether.  That seemed to be your complaint in regard to the mainline Christian’s speech, no mention of Jesus, but only of “common grace” methods to help curb religious intolerance.  Once again, Greg, thanks for the dialogue.

Community Builder

Roger, are you a Christian?  If not, what is your goal in commenting on this article?  I fail to see the purpose in this.

You talk about how Christianity makes no sense, must be taken on faith, is superstition etc. yet you spend a lot of time commenting on Christian articles on a Christian website?

I know for a fact that you were once ordained in the CRC.  What happened?

Izaak, to answer your question, I'll simply quote Roger from another forum:

"Although my background is Reformed, my present position would come much closer to deism, which is a belief in the existence of God based on the evidence of reason and nature, with a rejection of supernatural revelations such as the Koran, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Jewish Scriptures and all other so called supernatural revelations."

Roger is still listed as a Minister of the Word in the CRC but rejects the Bible. 

Community Builder

Eric - I am sorry to hear that. 

Roger, it seems as though we are having an interfaith dialogue at this very moment.  It is apparent that you know your theology quite well, so all I can really say is this:  God is compassionate and gracious, willing to forgive - but there is no salvation outside of his son.  Yes, that comes from special revelation - the Bible - but is also confirmed in the sacraments - where God preaches to us a visual sermon about the atoning death of Christ.  Of course you know all this but I would just encourage you to cry out to God to give you eyes to see, ears to hear, to help you to believe.  "Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief".  I will be praying for you.

Thanks again, Isaac, for your concern.  Perhaps you didn't catch my comment to you.  I'm good with God, in fact very good.  As David, felt and assumed God's love radiating from the God of creation, so do I.  Blessings to you.

Community Builder

Thanks Roger for contributing to the discussion. I appreciate where you are coming from and we need to continue this kind of dialogue (intra-faith dialogue).

     Hey, Izaak.  I’m a little confused.  I seem to have two responses from you.  There’s one response here on the website, but another, and different one, where I receive notification in my email of a new comment posted to this article.  That’s strange.  I’m not sure which one I’m supposed to respond to. And now there are other comments.  Let me first say, I’m good with God, in fact, very good.  No need to worry there.  Thanks for your concern.

     But, my spiritual well being would be way off track as to the intent and purpose of this article.  I think Greg is concerned as to why Christians, Bible believing Christians, are not stepping up to the plate and speaking up for Jesus (the Christian Jesus, as opposed to the Muslim Jesus), even in a forum involving various religions, such as the vigil that he went to?  And that is what I was attempting to respond to.  That’s my goal in responding to this article.

     In previous comments, I mentioned how most Christians (in our Western culture) are embarrassed by Jesus.  Let me illustrate, to help make my point clear.  We all know the tactics of evangelism used by Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses.  They go door to door, wanting to make an entrance into your home, to tell you about Jesus.  You may say, I already know about Jesus.  They say they want to tell you about the real Jesus, a proper interpretation of the Bible Jesus.  And most Christians think, no thanks, I don’t want this and quickly send them away.  For us, to be so bold as to go to people’s homes to tell them about our Jesus would be embarrassing.  We think, You wouldn’t catch me going door to door, even to my neighbor right next door.  To have doors slammed in my face would be embarrassing.  Or to go to the shopping mall with a youth group and approach people with the good news of Jesus, is also embarrassing.  It’s embarrassing for those kids trying to explain Jesus to strangers, and it’s embarrassing for those strangers who are being told of the one and only way to be made acceptable to God.

     That kind of embarrassment is felt by most Christians when called upon to speak up for Jesus in a non Christian environment.  Although, all Christians know and believe the Bible’s message of Jesus, it’s embarrassing to speak of him in public, because they know such a message does not stack up to reality or to common sense.  If humans are made in God’s image, it’s our intelligence and ability to reason that makes us most like God and different from all other animals.  And human reason dictates against the Jesus of the Bible.  It would seem that this mainline Christian pastor (that Greg mentioned) knew this as well, so looked for less offensive ways  (the offense of the gospel) to represent Christians in their concern for religious intolerance.

Put Christians in a Christian context, the church, for example, and it’s easy to talk about Jesus, because all have swallowed the Jesus pill.  To put a welcome sign in front of your church is the Christian’s preference for evangelism.  But it’s not so easy to talk of Jesus in foreign territory where others haven’t swallowed the Jesus pill.  Thanks, Greg, for your encouragement.

Community Builder

Roger,

Some probably do not share Jesus out of embarrassment.  Some do not share him out of a lack of conviction in the reality of it all.  Some do not share him due to fear of being rejected.  Some do not share him because they are not confident in their ability to present the gospel coherently and respond to objections with intelligent responses.  I have been guilty of all of these things at some point in my life.  I do not share the good news of Jesus as I should, to my shame.  Yes, it is easy to speak of Jesus in a Christian setting compared to a hostile one.  It is much easier to speak in front of a body of believers than in a shopping mall, or from going door to door.  However that does not mean that the message is not true because it is easy in one context to say it and hard in another - that simply does not make logical sense.  In years gone by scientists may have felt that it was easy to talk amongst themselves about the earth being a sphere, but amongst the unbelieving masses they felt that it was hard to do - the point is, that whether it is easy to talk about or hard to talk about is irrelevant when we are evaluating a truth claim - each claim must be evaluated on its own merits.

You assert that those in the church have taken the "Jesus pill" whereas those outside the church have clear heads and recognize that the gospel does not stand up to reason.  Let me emphasize that the Bible did not drop from the sky like the Quran supposedly did.  When we proclaim Jesus and him crucified, we are giving the testimony of the apostles who "did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty".  When we proclaim Jesus, we are proclaiming a real person - yet more than a person, but one who walked and talked in real space, and real time, 2000 years ago in Palestine - not a Jesus who makes my life nice and helps me get a nice job and have a good marriage.  When we proclaim Jesus we are proclaiming what the Christians in the 40s, and 50s of the 1st century proclaimed when they said "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve."

Finally, you confidently assert that you are "good with God".  Let me simply ask - how do you know that?  You certainly don't believe that about yourself because you read it in the Bible, so what is your source for that information?  How do you know that you are good with God?

 

     Thanks, Izaak, for your further input, as to why Christians fail in sharing Jesus Christ with others, even why you, yourself, have failed.  Greg, the author of this article, might do well to take note of some of the further reasons for Christianity’s failure in sharing Jesus.  As you suggest, just because sharing Jesus is easy in familiar territory and not in hostile territory, doesn’t make the message untrue.  But it does seem to say the transforming power of the gospel is not so strong as to overcome the many obstacles you and I have listed.  Where’s the empowering of the Holy Spirit to overcome all obstacles?  I imagine this is a question that Greg is frustrated by, as well.  If there is no power behind the message (as Christians claim), what does that say about the message itself?

     I hear what you are saying about the veracity of the Bible.  What you share is true because it comes from the God inspired Christian Scriptures.  But do you realize that such a mantra is the same for every religion?  You suggest that the Koran fell from the sky.  But Muslims say it was given from God to the angel Gabriel who in turn gave it to Mohamed.  Therefore it is the true inspired word from God (say the Muslims).  Or do you realize that the book of Mormon was given by the angel Moroni who gave translation to the twelve golden plates which were given by God?  Therefore the book of Mormon is the truly inspired word of God and capable of giving a true interpretation to the Bible.  In fact, Izaak, all religions claim that their Scriptures are truly inspired of God and therefore absolutely true.  All claim that only their own Scriptures are truly inspired and that all others are false.  Well, now I’m confused.  Which Scriptures or religion should I believe.  Reason would suggest they are all man made and one is no more inspired and true than the other.  They all have their own human bias.  The New Testament was written by the closest followers of Jesus possible.  Of course it is a biased account, just like the accounts of other Scriptures.

     So when you ask, how I know that I’m good with God, it is not because of the teachings of the book of Mormon, or the teachings of the Koran, or the teachings of the Jewish Scriptures, or the teachings of the Bible.  I believe that the only true revelation of God is nature, or what Christians call a general revelation of God.  It is through reason as applied to God’s natural revelation that I have a good sense of God as a caring and loving God. There is much more that could be said here, but this response is already too long.  I’m sorry if we have gotten off track in our comments.  I didn’t mean to make this personal.  I wish you well.

Community Builder

Roger, thanks for your response.  I suppose that if one really wanted to delve into the debate regarding each religion's authoritative texts one would have to really study each one.  I know that my argumentation is based on thee Bible - in fact, I have no interest in basing my argument on anything else.  I understand that this is not palatable to an unbeliever who wishes to place all religions on an equal playing field and then supposedly complete an unbiased evaluation of the merits and demerits of each.  Perhaps this is what you have done.  Of course, you know that the Bible says that the human heart is inclined towards evil and that the natural man does not seek God - the natural man has a natural bent towards rejecting the God of scripture - anything else will do - be it Mormonism, Buddhism, Atheism, Deism, etc.  So the Bible itself does not lend itself favourably (at all) with a comparison of other so-called sacred texts.

You ask where the empowering of the Holy Spirit is - well we know that not everyone has been appointed to be an evangelist.  God has appointed some to be preachers, teachers, evangelists, etc.  Not everyone has the gift of standing on a street corner and open-air preaching.  Some thrive in those situations while some are more gifted towards discpling those who already profess Christ.  The Bible no where teaches that we should expect to see all Christians zealously going from house-to-house proclaiming the good news like the Jehovah's Witnesses.  In fact Paul exhorts the Thesallonians to lead a quiet life and to work with your hands - this hardly sounds like street preaching to me.  But of course Paul hiimself was appointed as an apostle, and was specially gifted to preach, teach, and evangelize, and that's what he pursued.

Finally, you claim that you know you are good with God because of the natural revelation of God - that he is good and caring.  What if you lived in a war-torn country?  Would you have the same conviction?  Probably not.  What if your house was destoryed by a Tsunami?  Probably not.  There are many people in this world who lead exceedingly evil lives and yet live sumptuously, while pious people are afflicted every day.  In Psalm 73 the psalmist bemoans this sad state of affairs and even questions if God actually cares about the affairs of his people - if they even are his people.  The Psalmist concludes that only the scope of eternity and the final judgement will everything be made right.  

Hi Izaak.  It’s been good talking with you.  I’ll not comment on all of your remarks in this last response.  But I will respond to your last paragraph.  You wonder how one who believes in the God of creation can be comforted in times of trials or comprehend the success of the wicked.  Then you cite Psalm 73.  Don’t you realize that it is the creator God that Asaph (author of this Psalm) and David reveled in?   In a great sense they were deists, who trusted in a creator God who they comprehended through reason.  They were not Christians who looked to Jesus Christ for salvation.  Psalm 23 is as much, or more so, the psalm of the deist.  The same comfort David experienced, so also for the deist.  Thanks for your response.

Thanks for raising an important discussion, Greg.

I propose 2 main reasons that we don't see Jesus proclaimed boldly at inter-faith events such as the one you discuss:

1) "Thou shalt not offend" has become one of the great commandments of Western culture. This goes hand-in-hand with wanting to fit in. Thus we see many evangelical denominations, including the CRC, focusing more on social justice than the Gospel. Being a "climate witness" is not offensive to the world. In fact, you get praised for it by people of all faiths! But being a witness of the Gospel is offensive. You said the Christian leader who spoke focused on solidarity and justice. These are the things being emphasized to leaders in evangelical denominations, as part of their training & education. Thus when a "leader" is invited, you end up getting a totally different message than if the event organizers invited a non-leader, "lay-person" like me to the event.

2) In the rare case where the event organizers happen to invite a Christian who (unlike the "leaders" mentioned above) IS willing to boldly proclaim the message of the Gospel of Jesus, that person is pretty much guaranteed to be a one-hit wonder. They will never be invited to speak at an inter-faith solidarity event ever again. It would be wonderful if someone stood in front of an event like this and said "Christians mourn with those who mourn...but let me tell you about the One who can turn your mourning into dancing...the risen Christ!" Yeah, that person would not be invited to the next event. The event organizers would scratch that person's name off their list and go back to inviting the "social justice" Christian for the next event.

Community Builder

Hi Dan thanks for your comments. They are very perceptive. In light of that I have been watching my Muslim friends and they seem to proclaim their faith quite openly without getting into the same trouble (offending others). That maybe due to the fact that they are in the minority and there is more tolerance for their approach and less tolerance for Christianity in our post-Christendom society. It may also be the lower key approach that Muslims take in these interfaith settings. You won't hear "Allahu Akbar" (God is greater), but you will hear the Quran being recited. They will be ready to hand out Qurans - but won't push it if you don't want one. So that makes me wonder if there isn't a middle road to wisely speaking truth without offending - some have called it winsome witness - perhaps a simple prayer acknowledging that Jesus is Lord. I don't have all of the answers but have appreciated this discussion.

 

 

Thanks, Greg, for graciously giving the readers of your article the opportunity to respon.  You have been generous in your response to the different viewpoints presented.  You have had quite a feedback as to what many think contributes to the timid proclamation of the Christian gospel.

     And you have had some examples of Christian evangelism demonstrated right here in the comments that have been made.  I doubt if they are the kind of evangelistic effort that would be effective in interfaith discussions though.  Dan seems to admit such ineffectiveness quite openly.  What he says about declaring the gospel at interfaith discussions would be true in most settings in our Western culture.  As Dan suggests a bold presentation of Christ would be a one hit wonder.  Don’t expect any invite backs.

     I don’t know, Greg, but have you considered that Dan in his comment is on to something?  It would seem, Biblically speaking, the gospel is not really meant to have a wide spread impact.  It is not meant to be a solution to the world’s problems.  It’s not meant to be the solution to the religious intolerance of the world, or even in our Western culture.

     Does God intend for Christianity to be the solution to the world’s problems?  As Christians we quote, or are at least aware of, the Scriptures that say, “narrow is the way that leads to life and wide is the way that leads to destruction.”  Or that, “many are called but few are chosen” for salvation.  Reformed Christians (in their own small circles) hold high the doctrine of election, the idea that God chooses only some for salvation but not all.  God, in Reformed thought, never intended to reach the many with the gospel, but only the few.  The rest, the unchosen, can go to hell which is what they deserve.  So how can we expect a success rate for the gospel when God measures success by a different standard than Christians themselves.  So Christians can proclaim the gospel far and wide (“many are called”), but God’s intention only extends to the few, the few he has chosen.

    So Greg, I would say (maybe with Dan) don’t get your hopes up.  The gospel has had little effect in establishing world peace in two thousand years.  And it won’t in the future either.  That’s not the intent of the gospel (at least in God’s mind). From a logical perspective, or reasonable perspective, the gospel’s failure has many reasons, some listed in the responses given here.  Thanks again, Greg, for the opportunity for dialogue.

Community Builder

Hi Roger, thank you for your comments and for this discussion. I think the answer to some of your questions is found in the writing of Lesslie Newbigin. Newbigin has both liberal and evangelical influences and was a big part of the ecumenical movement in the 20th century. He was committed to both ecumenism and world mission and I think lamented that the WCC moved away from evangelistic mission towards more justice oriented issues. Still it was also the end of colonialism and the independence movements of many countries. This was also the period when there was a call for a moratorium on foreign missions. Yet Newbigin managed to bridge these movements with his clear call to journey together towards Jesus as the answer for all peoples in all places and to journey in a way that does not judge but rather leads to or points to the saving work of Christ. So Newbigin would say that we should not judge but rather witness faithfully to the truth that has been entrusted to us faithfully by the Christian community. Newbigin points out that the problem with judging is that whenever Jesus refers to who exactly will gain entrance into heaven there is usually an element of surprise. So that means those who judge harshly the eternal future of others should also be worried about their own future (perhaps because they are already in danger of self-righteousness and theological pride). So I think Newbigin's theology of missions and religions does help us today with some of these dilemmas and challenges. I have only begun to unpack some of the richness of Newbigin's thinking on all of this.

Roger, we can't confuse acceptance with effectiveness. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only effective solution to the problems being discussed at these interfaith events. But that does not mean it will be accepted by all those present, particularly by the leadership in charge of such events (and invited back to the next event). Think of Paul preaching to the Jewish leaders.

The religion that you have said you practice is more likely to be accepted by politicians, liberal Christian leaders, and leaders of other religions, because it does not ask them to repent or change. It is seen as inclusive and non-judgmental. On the other hand, a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus requires people to submit to His authority. That is not very popular with the leaders in these circles!

The irony is that even those who have rejected the Gospel of Jesus benefit from the peace and tranquility the Gospel brings to humanity.

 

Thanks, Dan, for the comment.  I don’t mean to be crass or mean spirited, but you apparently know little or nothing about other religions.  Christians themselves, have characterized all other religions as self help based in contrast to Christianity which is grace based.  Self help indicates that religious adherents  must find acceptance with God through a life pleasing to him.  That involves turning from sinful ways and following righteousness. I also suggested that David of the Old Testament was a deist who was considered a “man after God’s own heart.”  Nearly every religion has a code of conduct, or moral standards, most very similar to the ten commandments.  So I don’t know, Dan, where you are getting your information about other religions, but it is obviously misguided.

As to those rejecting the Christian gospel benefiting from the peace and tranquility the gospel brings.  Hmm.  I think of the peace and tranquility of apartheid in South Africa which was led, for the most part, by Reformed Christians and their churches.  If you were to turn your statement around, I think you could say that Christians benefit greatly by the advances of secular culture - science, medicine, health care, technology, government and more. 

Hi Roger. No worries. I do not take your statement as crass or mean-spirited at all. You simply missed my point. That is my fault for not explaining it well.

I completely understand that the Gospel of Jesus is different than all man-made religions, the man-made religions being based on completing enough works to earn "right-ness." The Gospel of Jesus requires our submission to the reality that our works are never adequate to earn right-ness.

Thus followers of man-made religions would readily accept deism (subjective moralism) as a non-threatening, kindred spirit. "I'm good with god, and you are too" is not a threat to Muslims, Hindus, atheists, or followers of earth-based indigenous religions. The organizers of inter-faith religious events are happy to include that sort of ideology.

***Side note*** Your choice of South Africa is an interesting one. Not much peace and tranquility there right now. The people of South Africa definitely need more of the Gospel of Jesus.

The advances of "secular culture" are precisely what I was referring to. Such advances were only possible because of the civilizing and peaceful influence of Christians following the true Gospel. Remove Christianity from the last 2000 years (going further back...remove the Jewish religion from the last 4000 years) and the world is a dark, deadly, terrible place. There would be no advances in civilization in such a world.

Well, Dan, I think you miss the point of other religions, again.  Other religions don’t have a grading scale as to earning God’s favor.  Muslims, for instance, believe in the perfection of God, like Christianity.  Works don’t measure anyone’s righteousness and therefore acceptance with God.  Good works merely demonstrate a commitment to God.  No one is perfect.  After all we are human beings, not Gods.  Even the Bible admits there is none righteous, no not one.  If we had been created as Gods, then God might expect perfection.  But we are human and come into the world with a natural inclination to sin.   So God isn’t looking for perfection, just commitment, even though that commitment often falls short.  God is a forgiving God, so perfection isn’t the goal.  He sees the heart.

Deism is the believe in the existence of God based on the evidence of reason and nature only. David, of the Old Testament, could be a good example of deism, one who saw God’s glory and wonder in the created world.  Many of his Psalms glory in the God of creation.  And even though he sinned, sometimes grievously, God forgave him and referred to him as a man after his own heart.  All this without ever having heard of Jesus or having believed in him for salvation.  David’s life was lived in the knowledge of and love for the God he saw in creation.  So, Dan, I think your criticism of other religions and even deism misses the mark.  And by the way, Dan, deism is not a man made religion. The only revelation deists believe is the created order, or nature.  That’s God’s revelation of himself, especially when reason is applied to it.  As you say, all other religions (and so called supernatural revelations) are man made which would include the Bible.  Blessings to you.