Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Biblical Foundation for Interreligious Engagement

Evangelicals are a "people of the Book," and any approach to how we live our religion among those of other religious traditions must take this into account. But is it possible that our biblical foundation for interreligious engagement is off kilter? I suggest that it is, and as an alternative I present a more appropriate biblical foundation for interreligious encounters.
Years ago I was on staff with a major apologetics ministry that provided seminars for churches on various "cult" groups. They used an approach to Scripture that is commonly found among Evangelicals as they encounter both "cult" groups (or new religious movements) like Mormonism, as well as world religions such as Islam. This involves a confrontational method of citing various biblical passages on important Evangelical doctrines in contrast with the teachings of a competing religious group. There are a select number of Bible verses that are appealed to as a foundation for this approach, and these include Jesus and his stern rebuke of Jewish leaders, New Testament texts warning about false teaching in the church, as well as Old Testament passages warning about false prophets, and the example of Elijah confronting the prophets of Baal.
As I studied these passages and considered the broader framework of biblical teaching, I came to the conclusion that this understanding was flawed. Later, as part of the 2004 Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization's issue group that explored Evangelical responses to "cults," I became part of an international group of missions practitioners and scholars who had come to the same conclusions as I. It resulted in one of the more significant papers to come out of that Lausanne gathering.
My fellow Lausanne group members acknowledged that there is an important concern in the Bible for doctrine, sound teaching, and the need for discernment within the church. That must be acknowledged. However, we also recognized that, among other things, the commonly accepted biblical basis for interacting with other religions is inappropriate. It is based on the wrong texts and contexts, and it need not be primarily confrontational.
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