Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What About Other Religions?

There seems to be a tremendous amount of anxiety that gets generated when it is suggested that we might partner with people who are not Christians in pursuing the mission of God. I have been highly influenced by the writings of Lesslie Newbigin about this issue. The following is from his best selling book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. I hope it might be helpful to some of you as well.

Lesslie Newbigin was an internationally esteemed British missionary, pastor, apologist, and theologian. His long career included serving as a village evangelist in India, pastor in the United Reformed Church (UK), bishop of the Church of South India, and general secretary of the International Missionary Council.

“The quest for truth always requires that we ask the right questions. If we ask the wrong questions we shall get only silence or confusion. In the debate about Christianity and the world’s religions it is fair to say that there has been an almost unquestioned assumption that the only question is, ‘What happens to the non-Christian after death?’ I want to affirm that this is the wrong question and that as long as it remains the central question we shall never come to the truth.” (P. 177)

“The whole discussion of the role of the world religions and secular ideologies from the point of view of the Christian faith is skewed if it begins with the question, who is going to be saved at the end? That is a question which God alone will answer, and it is arrogant presumption on the part of theologians to suppose that it is their business to answer it.” (P. 180)

Newbigin suggests four implications:

1. The first is this: we shall expect, look for, and welcome all the signs of the grace of God at work in the lives of those who do not know Jesus as Lord. There is something deeply repulsive in the attitude, sometimes found among Christians, which makes only grudging acknowledgment of the faith, the godliness, and the nobility to be found in the lives of non-Christians. Even more repulsive is the idea that in order to communicate the gospel to them one must, as it were, ferret out their hidden sins, show that their goodness is not so good after all, as a precondition for presenting the offer of grace in Christ.

2. The second consequence is that the Christian will be eager to cooperate with people of all faiths and ideologies in all projects which are in line with the Christian’s understanding of God’s purpose in history. (If the mission of God is to restore all of creation to wholeness, then shouldn't we be willing to partner with anyone who is working on any part of that mission. Inserted by Ken Shuman)

3. Third, it is precisely in this kind of shared commitment to the business of the world that the context for true dialogue is provided. It is a real dialogue about real issues. At heart it will be a dialogue about the meaning and goal of the human story. And, once again, the dialogue will not be about who is going to be saved. It will be about the question, “what is the meaning and goal of this common human story in which we are all, Christians and others together, participants?”

4. Therefore, the essential contribution of the Christian to the dialogue will simply be the telling of the story, the story of Jesus, the story of the Bible. The story is itself, as Paul says, the power of God for salvation. The Christian must tell it, not because she lacks respect for the many excellencies of her companions – many of whom may be better, more godly, more worthy of respect than she is. She tells it simply as one who has been chosen and called by God to be part of the company which is entrusted with the story. The Christian will both tell the story and so conduct her life as to embody the truth of the story. But she will not imagine that it is her responsibility to insure that the other is persuaded. That is in God’s hands. (P. 180-182)


Anonymous said...

So if the queation isn't ‘What happens to the non-Christian after death?’ then what is the answer to the bigoted, judgemental question of what happens to the person who doesn't buy into the question of what happens to the non-judgmental non-Christian?

It seems to me that the lifestyle which is most full of grace doesn't include being 'a Christian'.

Anonymous said...

To the comment above: if I want to be full of grace, I can't be a Christian.